Handhelds and HIPAA: Does instant access and availabilityfrom mobile technology jeopardize patient privacy

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The following is a review of the article, “Handhelds and HIPAA: Does instant access and availability from mobile technology jeopardize patient privacy?" [1].


Social media networks and smartphones are making it easier for health care professionals to violate the HIPAA privacy act.


HIPAA is becoming harder for health care institutions to enforce due to an increasing trend in Social Media network users and the capabilities of smartphones. A health care professional's writings on a social media network about a patient without that patient's consent may be read by millions of online users. Advances in smartphones allow health care professionals to take pictures discreetly and transmit the pictures to numerous acquaintances without much effort and time. The authors suggest several steps that health care institutions may take to prevent their workers from HIPAA violations. They include setting up roles of privacy officers, providing continual education and training about HIPAA, and updating institutional policies to reflect the changing information technologies.


The authors recommend several actions to re-enforce the HIPAA privacy act in a time of digital information sharing. They recommend that institutions “set guidelines for the appropriate chain of command for these issues” (Knox & Smith, 2007, p. 39). They believe that institutions should have privacy officers to “provide immediate response to potential patient disclosure concerns” (Knox & Smith, 2007, p. 39). A second recommendation includes continuing to provide education and training about HIPAA to employees on a regular basis. The education and training should include real-life case studies. According to Knox and Smith, the case studies "will allow employees and nurse leaders to process application of policy as it relates to practice" (2007, p. 39). A third recommendation includes updating institutional policies “to reflect new and changing patient privacy technologies” in accordance to HIPAA (Knox & Smith, 2007, p. 40). This will allow the institutional policies to make amendments that will incorporate the latest trend in Internet and smartphone technologies and "their appropriate role in the patient care setting" (Knox & Smith, 2007, p. 39).


This article serves as an excellent reminder that good intentions may have bad consequences. Social media has made it easier to send images or words about an interesting medical case to fellow healthcare workers. However, this act violates a patient’s HIPAA protection if the patient never consented to it. The desire to share information needs to be restricted when it comes to all patients’ privacy.


  1. Knox, C., & Smith, A. (2007). Handhelds and HIPAA: Does instant access and availability from mobile technology jeopardize patient privacy?. Nursing Management, 38(6), 38-40.