Ever been tempted to peek at a relative's medical record? Don't even go there. According to some reports, health care facilities are getting serious about punishing violations of privacy provisions mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). For example, Park Nicollet Clinic in Minneapolis, Minn., has handed out 3-day suspensions to more than 100 employees, including a few nurses, for violating HIPAA. Most of the violations involved accessing the electronic medical records of friends, neighbors, or relatives. "We are seeing an increase in the frequency and severity of punishment," said Jan Rabbers, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Nurses Association, which is representing nurses in arbitration involving HIPAA violations.
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Electronic medical records should be accessed only by professional caregivers directly involved in the patient's care. Many record systems now have software that tracks who accessed a medical record and when, and some scan for suspicious activity. Punishments for unauthorized viewing range from coaching to termination, depending on the severity of the violation.