5 HIPAA Tips for Travel Nurses
By Alana Luna, Contributor
HIPAA, otherwise known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a set of regulations designed to protect patients’ health information and privacy. Though the rules are laid out in black and white, the language and sheer extent of the text can be confusing. To help you understand how to handle certain situations and meet government standards, we’ve put together a list of HIPAA tips for nurses.
RELATED: 4 Ways Travel Nurses Can Support Safety Culture
5 HIPAA Tips for Nurses Who Travel
1. Know what qualifies as protected information
Start off by studying what information falls under HIPAA’s protective umbrella. Protected health information includes:
- Any information related to an individual’s past, present or future mental or physical health
- Healthcare provided to an individual
- Healthcare-related documents containing key identifiers such as the patient’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and address
Patient files, both paper and digital, are protected by HIPAA, as are lab reports and hospital bills. Case studies and group treatment plans that contain only general descriptors are not.
2. Never share login IDs or passwords
Working on the road means working in strange environments, and it’s easy to forget your login name or forget to sign out of the computer at the nurse’s station. One of our most important tips for travel nurses is to never give your assigned login info to a coworker. If someone uses your account to view or share protected files, you could be held liable for a HIPAA violation and be subject to related penalties.
3. Avoid having patient-related conversations
Hospitals, doctor’s offices and other medical facilities are busy places, and even if you think you’re alone, someone could be listening. Employee gossip is one of the most commonly cited HIPAA violations, so keep conversations in private areas such as a nurse’s lounge or supervisor’s office, speak in low tones and always be mindful of your surroundings.
4. Keep work talk off social media
There are currently more than 3 million people actively using social media, and those people spend an average of 116 minutes per day scrolling through their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Nurses are far from exempt; many carry their phones on the floor, updating their status during breaks and venting about problems that arise during the workday. Another key HIPAA tip for nurses is to keep patient data away from your favorite social platform.
It’s tempting to share a sweet story about Mrs. Jones in bed 1358 or complain about Mr. Smith’s grumpy attitude, but those disclosures are both ethically and morally questionable. In short, you may feel better after airing out your irritations, but that temporary relief is not worth the risk — or the breach of trust.
5. Take steps to safeguard against digital attacks
Sometimes tips for travel nurses apply to healthcare professionals in more permanent employment situations too. In this case, the need for firewalls and antiviral software is universal. Nurses may have to use their smartphones and tablets to sign onto their work platform and view or enter patient data. It’s therefore essential that each device is protected against threats. Avoid installing unknown software on your computer and notify your supervisor or a security officer if you suspect a breach.
Nurses should also understand the dangers of phishing. One Mississippi hospital had an employee who fell victim to an email scheme, giving the perpetrator access to the protected health information of some 30,000 patients. One slip up can have catastrophic consequences, and many errors are preventable thanks to simple software installations and updates.
The internet is full of nurse tips, but few organizations address the need for HIPAA tips for nurses. By understanding how you can better protect patients’ information and staying current on government regulations and industry expectations, you’re providing a better standard of care and safeguarding your professional future at the same time.
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