Don’t be surprised to see Jason Pierre-Paul sue the hospital and his doctors, says Dr. David Samadi.
Could a tweet lead to a HIPAA violation?
Last night, reports shocked the New York Giants and everyone who follows them with the release of news that Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had his right finger amputated after a July 4 accident with fireworks. How did this private health matter get out? Through a tweet. That’s right, the Giants had no idea until ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted about the prominent athlete’s injury. The ESPN host also shared a photo of Pierre-Paul’s medical chart.
HIPAA violation? It may be. Even as a public figure and famous athlete, Pierre-Paul most likely has a case for violation of his legally guaranteed health privacy rights and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him sue the hospital and his doctors.
The primary goal of HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is to make it easier for people to keep health insurance and protect the confidentiality and security of healthcare information.
His injury and surgery remain a major mystery and this case has quickly become one of the most high-profile patient data breaches we’ve seen in the last 10 years. Not only did the Giants pull his $ 60 million long-term contract offer, but now the entire world knows the inner private details of his injury, even though a minor injury it was.
Despite being a famous athlete, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul most likely has a case for a HIPAA violation.
There’s is still much to be discovered in this case and neither party has issued a statement but as a doctor, this is highly concerning. The fact remains, Pierre-Paul’s entire hospitalization is all over social media and the media in general, constituting a major breach of privacy. My question is how did anyone get a photo of this patient’s medical chart? In hindsight, this would require one of the healthcare or medical professionals that Pierre-Paul came into contact with during his treatment to essentially leak the photo.
HIPAA was put into effect to protect patients at every fundamental level throughout any patient care situation, be it in a hospital or doctor’s office. Even further, the law was created specifically to penalize healthcare providers or professionals if any information is shared without a patient’s consent. A classic example: If we want to share a photo of myself with a patient on my Facebook page. Even if the patient took the picture with me in my office, we cannot just post it without their further expressed permission, even if the photo seems harmless.
This case calls into question the realities of the enforcement — or lack thereof — when it comes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This law imposes national standards, especially for the security of electronic dissemination of protected health information: of course it’s meant to protect photos of medical records from being released to anyone but the patient without consent. And it certainly is not supposed to end up on a national sports host’s Twitter feed.
Since this confine can be shared at warp speed, this debacle also raises larger questions about how social media and technology have affected patient privacy. As a doctor, I have trained my staff to be extra cautious when it comes to every last bit of patient information we possess. It’s also important to educate the patient about their rights, how we handle and secure that information and who will have access to it. Frankly, not every practice or hospital focuses heavily on this, even though it’s one of the most important aspects of the patient experience and quality healthcare.
Even the New York Giants had no idea that their star defensive end had a finger amputated until they saw it on Twitter.
What does Pierre-Paul’s situation teach us? Hospitals and all healthcare organizations need to re-focus new and existing efforts around educating and advocating for patient privacy. As technology gets smarter and faster, and patient procedures and information handling evolves, we cannot afford to cut corners.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery, and an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for am970 in New York City, where he is heard Sundays at 10 a.m.
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