A Texas ICU/ER nurse was fired after she posted about a severe incident of measles on social media.
The story has been convoluted some as this nurse is an anti-vaxxer, so many people thought she lost her job for that reason alone. It turns out that she lost her job by posting what has now been deemed protected health information (PHI) on an anti-vax page on Facebook.
A young boy became a patient at Texas Children’s Hospital after contracting a severe case of the measles. In and around Houston, Texas, cases of measles are relatively rare. From 2006 to 2016, there have only been 12 confirmed cases. So, a child with measles would be a hot topic, but newsworthiness most certainly does not permit disclosure of PHI.
The nurse’s posts revolved around how terrible the case was and how much the young boy was suffering. She said that as a parent she understands the need to protect children. She also posted that because of situations like this, she could easily understand why parents would vaccinate their children out of fear. The nurse further went on to say that she did not change her anti-vax stance, despite what she saw.
A concerned parent took screen shots of some of these posts and the resulting comments, then posted it on the Texas Children’s Hospital Facebook page. The hospital responded immediately and said there would be an investigation into the situation.
Additionally, her Facebook profile provided information on where she worked. The hospital staff conducting the investigation determined that the nurse decided to post the PHI on social media due to the rarity of measles cases. Again, employees at health care organizations should be wary of posting anything related to work on their social media; especially, anything that could hint at a patient and his or her condition.
In this example, the normal identifiers for PHI don’t apply. Normally, it takes a couple of identifiers for people to know which patient is being addressed. It’s why they ask you for your name AND date of birth when you are in the hospital. Another example would be a name of a patient and their address.
Consequently, the likelihood of someone identifying this child was high enough to warrant firing the nurse.
To learn about how to protect against these types of breaches and others, join HIPAAgps today.