Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Violations by Physician Assistant Students: Applying Laws to Clinical Vignettes

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Abstract

Students enrolled in medical schools, nursing schools, and physician assistant (PA) programs are required to have instruction on patient privacy and protection of health-related information. The medical literature has several examples of breaches of patient privacy by clinicians, which likely represents only a fraction of the violations that occur. Patient privacy and the protection of health-related information constitute both an ethical issue and a legal issue and are associated with significant consequences. Medical, PA, and allied health students are required to comply with the same federal laws related to patient privacy and confidentiality as licensed professionals. Universities must work diligently to create a culture in which students are taught about the legal requirements of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and are held accountable for compliance with such requirements. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act must be considered part of standard classroom instruction and be embedded and upheld at all clinical training sites. We present a series of 7 HIPAA violations by PA students, along with a brief description of the HIPAA provisions associated with each case. These real-life examples provide a comprehensive overview of important HIPAA components and illustrate how easily violations can occur in clinical settings.

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