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HIPAA Violations Remind Hospitals to Reinforce Privacy Rules

Dom Nicastro, for HealthLeaders Media, February 8, 2011

The HIPAA compliance officer at St. Dominic Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, MS, calls the latest snooping incidents "great training tools in the form of reminders. It also gets our employees thinking about the consequences of snooping in records, so we roll these out in our weekly HIPAA tips to all employees, as well as our physicians."

Nancy Davis, the privacy/security officer for Ministry Health Care in Sturgeon Bay, WI, feels the same.

"When these types of stories are published, we unofficially circulate (in-house) and privacy and security networking groups," Davis says. "We will also use this as an example in our next quarterly staff update."

The only fight trainers will always lose is the battle to curiosity. People want to nose into other peoples' business, especially when it comes to high-profile cases like the ones in Arizona and Iowa. Sometimes, they even get paid for that information.

The good news is hospitals are beginning to crack down. Last May, Huping Zhou, 47, of Los Angeles became the first person sentenced to prison for misdemeanor HIPAA offenses for accessing confidential records without a valid reason or authorization, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California.

United States Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Wistrich sentenced Zhou, a former UCLA Healthcare System employee who admitted snooping at patients' records, to four months in prison.

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