• Andrew Wilner, MD

Physician Privacy unprotected

The privacy of patient protected health information (PHI) was made sacrosanct by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). A recent article highlighted the "Biggest HIPAA violations of 2018" and their eye-popping fines. Patients rightly expect that their health information should be kept private.

What many physicians may not realize is that HIPAA only applies to PHI, not physician privacy. Here are a few facts I learned in the process of researching my upcoming book, The Locum Life: A Physician's Guide to Locum Tenens:

1. Physician privacy always takes a back seat to hospital privileging and medical licensing requirements. These agencies assume the peculiar position that physicians are threats to patients and frauds unless proven otherwise. Physicians may be required to take "voluntary" drug screens, submit to criminal background checks, disclose financial and personal interests associated with the hospital, reveal physical and mental health impairments, and disclose all malpractice lawsuits (even those that were dismissed!).

2. To top it off, after providing all of these personal details, physicians must sign a "release of liability" in case the release of any of this information harms one's career!

3. And then there's big brother at the hospital. Few physicians realize that emails sent on hospital computers may be subject to review.

4. Finally, physicians who wish to maintain their privacy must stand vigilant against the eyes and ears of colleagues and hospital staff. Although formal studies have not been conducted, many suspect that hospital corridors transmit gossip faster than any fiber optic cable.


It's a strange contrast that while patients fully expect their health information to remain private, the physicians who care for them can hold no such expectations regarding their personal and professional information.

N.B. More information on physician privacy appears in Chapter 10 of The Locum Life: A Physician's Guide to Locum Tenens.

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