5 Common Patient Confidentiality Mistakes for New Nurses

patient confidentialityBy Erin Wallace

Patient confidentiality is a critical part of providing quality nursing care in hospitals, doctor's offices and nursing homes. 

Errors and non-compliance mistakes happen because every nurse is human. However, handling those patient confidentiality mistakes professionally and swiftly can help prevent them from turning into a larger legal problem.

Below are five common patient confidentiality mistakes that new nurses often make and how to avoid them. 

5 Common Patient Confidentiality Mistakes New Nurses Make

1. New nurses disclosing information to friends or coworkers

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) of 1996, which all nurses are familiar with, is U.S. legislation that provides privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

Gossiping or discussing patient information with family and friends is considered a HIPAA violation. Nurses, especially new nurses, have to be mindful of their environment and restrict conversations about patients to private places.

2. Mishandling patient records

Keeping comprehensive patient records, both of reported patient statements and physician diagnoses, medications and other critical information, is vital to providing good nursing care.

One of the more common patient confidentiality mistakes new nurses make is leaving a patient chart or record in an exam room or hospital room accidentally, making it available for another patient to see, or out on a nursing station counter where it can be viewed by visiting family members.

Always keep patient charts in the proper place, and take care not to leave them in places you shouldn't.

[RELATED: 5 Tips for Avoiding Nursing Medication Errors]

3. Lost or stolen equipment

While this can happen to anyone, not just new nurses, it's important to be extra careful with computers, smartphones or laptops that contain patient information to maintain patient confidentiality. 

Most hospitals have strict protocol when it comes to locking up these devices when not in use, and many have built-in encryption programs that prevent public access or viewing. 

Smartphones are the most vulnerable to this crime because of their size. As a new nurse, take care to follow your workplace's protocol for portable devices.

4. Posting patient photos on social media

This is a serious HIPAA violation of patient confidentiality, and it can definitely put your job in jeopardy. 

While it might seem harmless if a name isn't mentioned, someone may recognize the patient or know the doctor's area of expertise, which is a breach of the patient's privacy. 

Typically, hospitals and doctor's offices have their own internal social media policies that you should familiarize yourself with.

5. Taking work home — and leaving it unattended

Some nurses and clinicians use their laptops to access patient information after hours to record notes or follow-ups. This can potentially result in a patient confidentiality violation if the laptop is left open and unattended with the screen on, available for anyone to see.

 Make sure your laptop is password protected, and whenever you leave your workspace — for any reason — make sure you lock the screen first to prevent a potential patient confidentiality breach.

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