patient privacy


What Really Happens In A Shared Hospital Room

In a post last week, I detailed a number of hard, evidenced-based reasons that shared hospital rooms are going the way of the house call, eclipsed by the realities of modern medicine in which private, germ-free spaces prevail.

But it’s worth remembering what gets lost when a medical trend takes hold. While a good night’s sleep and lower risk of infection are excellent arguments for single-occupancy hospital rooms, there are times when it’s nice to have a stranger in the next bed. This became clear in several comments on the post, which offer a glimpse into the kind of close calls that can happen, often at night, when no one else is watching.

For instance, judithg writes:

“Make sure you get into a shared room or a ward. It’s the best way to stay alive. If it weren’t for my city hospital ward mate who got up at 3am when I had convulsions, I would have been dead at 19. Shared rooms with at least two patients means that nurses and doctors are going in and out of the room all night and that gives you a chance to grab one or point to an infusion that needs refilling.”

JLP makes the point that annoying patients can alienate even the most attentive nursing staff, and that can lead to trouble: Continue reading

MGH Settles For $1M After HIV Patient Records Lost On Subway

The Red Line near Massachusetts General Hospital

Hat-tip to investigative reporter Tom Mashberg, who’s working on this story, for pointing this out:

The federal Department of Health and Human Services reports here that Massachusetts General Hospital has agreed to pay $1 million to settle claims that it violated patient privacy rules. The department’s dry summary:

“The incident giving rise to the agreement involved the loss of protected health information (PHI) of 192 patients of Mass General’s Infectious Disease Associates outpatient practice, including patients with HIV/AIDS.”

To which must be added: Those records were lost on the Red Line, and never recovered. The account in the settlement posted here offers some painful details:

(1) On March 6, 2009, an MOH employee removed from the MGH premises documents containing protected health information (“PHI”). The MGH employee removed the PHI from the MGH premises for the purpose of working on the documents from home. The documents consisted of billing encounter forms containing the name, date of birth, medical record number, health insurer and policy number, diagnosis and name of provider of66 patients and the practice’s daily office schedules for three days containing the names and medical record numbers of 192 patients.
(2) On March 9, 2009, while commuting to work on the subway, the MGH employee removed the documents contalning PHI from her bag and placed them on the seat beside her. The documents were not in an envelope and were bound with a rubber band. Upon exiting the train, the \1GH employee left the documents on the subway train and they were never recovered. These documents contained the PHI of 192 individuals.

The $1 million settlement agreement specifies that it does not constitute an admission of guilt by Mass. General. The hospital does agree to put in an extensive “corrective action plan” to improve privacy protections. Continue reading