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Just the facts, ma’am


“How is John doing? He was admitted to the hospital last week?”

“What was Dale’s lab result? He had lab work drawn yesterday?”

“What room is Joy in? Our neighbor was admitted to the hospital over the weekend”

We have all wrangled with the deadly ‘Hippo’. Yes I’m talking about The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996. If you’re not familiar with it, Wikipedia has a great synopsis of it here.

In a nut shell it prevents people knowing about your health, that you don’t want, or don’t need to know about your health. I like to think of it as the gossip-enforcer.

For those of you in health care, yep- it’s a rudimentary definition. But it gets the point across.

I don’t care who you are, who the patient is, where they are getting treated, what they are getting treated for, and who is doing the treating. All the information that surrounds the patient and their care is basically ‘top secret’ and is shared on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Unless you are part of the process of their immediate or tertiary care… you don’t need to know anything about anything. Period.

It seems that family and friends can’t understand this concept. Whether you work in a large urban hospital or a small community hospital, people always want to poke their noses in other people’s business! (Grr)


I don’t care how you are or are not related to the patient in question. If you need to know – you’ll know. That’s it. No IF’s, AND’s, or BUT’s about it.

Just because you are my aunt, my best friend, or my parent, I’m not going to tell you about so-and-so and their condition, their state of health, or their results of their plan of care. I’m not allowed. It’s against the law. I will lose my job, and quite possibly my license. Whether the patient is a family friend, neighbor, or a Hollywood celebrity, the law is the same. Just ask these people here, here, and here.

Stop asking. And, oh yeah, stop looking!

I guess we should all look at it this way. I mean ALL of us, health care workers, non-health care workers, and the public in general. If YOU were the patient. Would you want everyone to know about your business?


Then stop asking about everyone else.

I think the Golden Rule mentioned something like that didn’t it?

It’s really that simple.

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).

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