Ethical and Faithful Practice

Do either of these nurses violate their patient’s privacy?

  • Randi, a NICU nurse, unknowingly stashes a couple of patients’ discharge notes into her tote bag on the way to a meal break. When she later discovers the pages in her bag, she tosses them in a restroom trash bin.
  • When an elderly patient’s husband dies, Tegan, a hospice nurse, learns that the widow can’t afford funeral expenses. Feeling compassion and wishing to help, Tegan starts a GoFundMe page on her Facebook account to ask for donations to cover the funeral costs.

 Nurses deal with private information all day long. While discussing patient information is essential and common in a medical setting, there are diverse ways to protect sensitive information. All medical professionals, including nurses at every level, are bound by HIPAA compliance.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires that sensitive information about a patient’s health is not disclosed unless the patient has consented to disclosure or knows that their information will be shared. The law is regulated and implemented via the HIPAA Privacy Rule as issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Privacy Rule further provides that patients should know and have control over how information about their health is used. It balances a patient’s privacy with the essential sharing of information for the good of public health and the provision of top-class health care.


Specific situations allow the disclosure of personal health information (PHI) when in the benefit of public interest without a patient’s consent:

  • Nurses can share PHI about students with school nurses, physicians, or other healthcare providers for treatment purposes, without the authorization of the student or student’s parent.
  • PHI can be shared with state, tribal, local, and territorial public health departments who are authorized by law to collect or receive PHI for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury, or disability, including for public health surveillance, public health investigations, and public health interventions
  • A public health authority can receive PHI in order to prevent or control spread of disease.
  • A patient’s PHI can be disclosed to L&I or a self-insurer without obtaining authorization from the patient, or to an employer regarding work-related illnesses or injuries without the patient’s authorization.
  • An employee or business associate of an entity covered by HIPAA can disclose PHI if the individual believes that the covered entity has engaged in unlawful conduct, engaged in conduct that violates professional or clinical standards, or provided care, services, or conditions that potentially endanger patients, workers or the public.

In both examples at start of this article, the nurses did violate patient privacy, according to HIPPA rules. “Practicing ethically isn't easy. No matter where we practice nursing, it is tough to be consistently moral, faithful, and conscientious,” says Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, National NCF Director, a in Journal of Christian Nursing editorial.

“However, I am inspired to be a diligent nurse by the apostle Paul's words to the first-century Christians. I offer these verses in The Message translation, but read them in various translations to grasp the full meaning and significance for you.”

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being Christian doesn't cover up bad work. Colossians 3:1-2, 23-25

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he'll do it! 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24


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