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chelle21689's avatar

What should I do about my friend's mom that tells patients' business?

Asked by chelle21689 (5450 points ) May 14th, 2010

I’ve been friends with my friend since I was in 4th grade so that’s almost 11 years. We are pretty close, and I’ve recently learned that her mother tells her everything that goes on in the hospital when she recognizes people she knows. Her mom is a radiographer/sonographer.

My friend asked me, “Is it true your sister got liposuction?” She got the information wrong but it did have to do with surgery about her stomach. She told me her mom tells her everything and I told her that was wrong. She also told me about our friend that went to the hospital because “down there” hurted.

I’m scared to go to the hospital for any reason now because I know she’ll tell her daughter (my friend). Her family is also struggling so I can’t let her lose her job but how can I make sure she won’t tell people’s business? She could easily tell her daughter and make sure she doesn’t tell me.

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19 Answers

Buttonstc's avatar

Wow. That is such a breach of professional ethics, I don’t even know what to say.

I understand your not wanting her to lose her job, but someone needs to have a serious talk with her to let her know that this is a distinct possibility if she continues this behavior.

I think the fact that you are hesitant to go to that hospital for fear of her gossip points to the seriousness of this issue.

Are you able to have a straightforward conversation with her daughter (or with her)?

If not, then you really need to speak to someone who can influence her and perhaps let her off with a warning?

If nothing is done, sooner or later she will be fired for this. It’s just inexcusable for a medical professional to act like this. Where on earth did she receive her training? They must have had at least one class on ethics and patient confidentiality. Was she sleeping in class or is she just extraordinarily ignorant?

cheebdragon's avatar

Go to a different hospital…...?

Evan's avatar

On the one hand, I agree with @Buttonstc that there’s a serious ethics issue here, and I can understand the problems that you face, especially if there’s only 1 hospital in your town. And especially in this economy, no one wants to see anyone lose their job.

But I’ve also been in a position where I people close to me have shared certain stories about their job, that could potentially be awkward if I was ever to meet that person in real life. One thing that did help was that the person telling me these stories often kept the names out of their stories, especially if it was something sensitive.

Maybe if nothing else, you could casually mention to your friend that it’s kinda messed up to talk about people’s private hospital stories, and plant a seed of guilt which she might unconsciously pass on to her mom.

Alternatively, you could take the position that you’re mostly just concerned for her, and for her mom, because you’ve heard about a “family friend” who got fired from her job for talking to people (even just family members) about what they saw at their job at the hospital. Maybe it would make her worried enough about her mom possibly losing her job, that she’d convince her mom to stop doing it. Meanwhile, you’re friend would just think you’re concerned for her and her mom.

Buttonstc's avatar

@Evan

GA that’s an excellent way to approach it. Wish I had thought of it :) obviously it’s clear that SOMETHING needs to be done.

There is a significant difference between talking about interesting cases with no names attached, and naming names and private details.

Im not saying its ideal to be telling stories about ANY job where confidentiality is part of that job, but at least there isn’t any way to possibly know exactly whom those details are associated with.

This woman is just a lawsuit waiting to happen and if one were ever filed, she could lose a whole lot more than just her job.

They would also go after the hospital since they have bigger pockets, but it’s not inconceivable that she could incur heavy fines or lose the house and other assets.

Somebody needs to drop her a clue and soon.

meagan's avatar

I really think youre blowing this out of proportion.
My mother is a nurse and sometimes says things about her patients that I don’t approve of. Not talking badly or gossiping, but just telling stories and stuff. I guess telling about her day.

A friend of mine was in a car accident while I was in high school and my mother told me about it. I’m sure that this woman might have just been concerned or something. Even liposuction can be a major surgery. Maybe she told your friend to see how your sister was recovering. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

I bet she just said “Oh hey, I saw your friend’s sister today at work. I think she had some kind of stomach surgery. Liposuction, I think?” Maybe she was concerned.
I don’t know why youre taking so much offense to her telling her family what goes on with their close friends. Most nurses do this.
I might not be taking this seriously enough, but I’m from a small town. And most people don’t really give two craps about this kind of stuff. Who cares if you had your kidney removed? BFD. I’m sorry, but this kind of annoys me. You’ve been friends with this girl for 11 years, but youre semi-interested in getting her mother fired for telling your friend that your sister had surgery? She didn’t tell some stranger.

I’m not sure why anyone would want a hospital visit to be private unless they’re trying to have some kind of secret cosmetic surgery or if she had problems with a pregnancy.

Gemini's avatar

Is there someone else you know and trust, like her mother’s sister or a good friend? Maybe you could tell your concerns to one of them and they would feel compelled to speak to her. I’m sure your friend means no harm either but she’s kind of doing the same thing because she came to you about your sister.

Kayak8's avatar

It is a breach of ethics to share information about a specific patient. In this case, you indicated that you RECENTLY learned of this woman’s habit of sharing patient information (when your sister happened to be at the hospital).

In other words, your friend’s Mom may have actually said, “I saw Sally’s sister at the hospital today tell Sally I hope her sister is feeling better” and that was it. You have the additional element of getting the information second hand from your friend (the friend interpreted her mom’s remark and now you have interpreted your friend’s remark). It was your friend who threw in the “liposuction” remark but she may have just been fishing to see what information YOU would share about your sister.

As for the comment your friend made about another friend with a “problem down there,” your friend could have said that just to stir things up. Her mom may have said the same kind of thing, “I saw Suzie at the hospital today” and your friend invented the rest as a form of gossip. Her Mom could have seen Suzie who was at the hospital visiting her grandmother or something much less “medical” and your friend decided to play with the thread of information.

So far you haven’t given any evidence of a breach of confidentiality.

chyna's avatar

@meagan I don’t think it is blown out of proportion. It is in direct violation of HIPPA regulations. If it was known that one name was mentioned, she is out of a job. No questions asked. All health care personnel sign these statements that they will not disclose any information on any patient unless authorized to do so. I worked on the other side, in the health insurance business and this applied to us as well. Immediate dismissal if it was known we told patient information to others, including our family.

gailcalled's avatar

Since your friend’s mother not only mentioned your sister but got the facts wrong, and since you are 18–19, emotionally you are an adult.

Talk to your friend’s mother in private, keep your voice modulated and keep the topic about your sister only. Insist that she no longer discuss any medical issues relating to your family with anyone. Then say that you hope you won’t have to take it further.

filmfann's avatar

If the mother was telling her daughter about some of the things she witnessed at the hospital, as cautionary tales, I wouldn’t blame her a bit. However, her naming names amounts to just gossiping, and lacks professionalism, and is ethical misconduct.
For example: I might voice concern to one of my kids about how I had witnessed doctors trying to remove a field rodent from someone’s posterior, and how unclean, dangerous, and immoral that is. However, I should never just say that I actually saw doctors take a wild hare out of pdworkin’s ass.

Seaofclouds's avatar

It is one thing to tell general stories without saying who the patient is. The moment a healthcare worker says who the patient is, they are violating the HIPPA laws. Violation of HIPPA can lead to the person having to pay a fine, get fired, and possibly even jail time depending on how badly the violation was (and how much people push it).

@chelle21689 You could warn your friend of what could happen if someone complains about her mom, but I honestly doubt that will be enough to stop it from happening. If you are really concerned about it, you can complain about it to the hospital that her mom works at.

Trillian's avatar

Violation of the HIPPA laws is no joke. She is aware of these laws, takes training and signs agreements not to do exactly what she is doing. Your sister has recourse against her and she needs to be reported to the HR department where she works. Her position makes her privy to lots of personal information and patients need to know that that information will be safe.

Buttonstc's avatar

@Meagan

You state that most nurses do this (in bold type no less) but what are you basing that assertion on? And did you mean inclusion of names or just commenting upon interesting cases? There is a huge difference.

This is not blown out of proportion at all. If most nurses gossiped about specific patients in this manner then, MOST NURSES WOULD BE FIRED and any other health care professional as well.

YOU yourself may be perfectly OK with your medical info spread all around town willy nilly. Obviously you’re young with not a lot of life experience.

The vast majority of people are definitely not OK with that in no uncertain terms. Small towns are not exempt from professional standards.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@meagan Most nurses do not do this. They may share an interesting story but they don’t give specific patient details. That is against the law and every nurse know that. Violating HIPPA laws can cause a nurse to lose their nursing license. That isn’t something most nurses are willing to risk.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Seaofclouds And potentially get prison time, too. I think they’re trying to go after the people who illegally accessed Brittany Spears’ medical record.

Personally, if I discovered that a nurse (or anyone else) was spreading around identifiable information they got from my medical record, I’d go after them in court for everything they had. (Obviously, it would be different if they were presenting a legitimate case report with name and identifying details changed.)

Evan's avatar

@chelle21689 – I obviously still stand by the advice I gave earlier, if you indeed want to say something, but don’t want it to mushroom out of control.

On the other hand, I think it’s really very incredibly and absolutely critical to consider what @Kayak8 pointed out. I realize the description you posted was limited, and that may signify that your info is limited, or it may just mean that (like many of us) you didn’t want to type an entire novel just for a single question.

But in either case, it may be a wise move to step back and consider what is actually being said, and by whom. Clearly if you felt compelled to pose a question about it, then it’s at the very least something that’s weighing on your mind. But while it’s certainly true that HIPPA violations are a big deal, it’s also pretty important to have all the information before you go talking to the hospital.

Additionally, there may be other issues here (besides potential HIPPA violations) that are an even bigger deal to you, personally, such your friendship with this woman’s daughter.

With regard to @meagan‘s comments about the issue being blown out of proportion, I think (again) that it’s important to take a step back and consider the larger picture. Yes, many people talk to their family about what’s going on at their jobs in the hospital, and by-and-large their families probably don’t repeat it, and it just ends there. But it’s also perfectly valid for you feel uncomfortable about the whole town knowing your medical history, and you’re perfectly entitled to be want to take action.

If there was a single piece of advice that I could give you, it would be to simply think, long and hard before you do anything that you might regret. Not for the sake of your friend, or for her mom, but for your own sake, and for the sake of this 11 year friendship, and for the sake of not misrepresenting what may or may not have been said.

In short, think before you act, and you’ll likely make a better decision in the end.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Dr_Dredd As would I. I mentioned the possible jail time in my first response to the question. Every healthcare worker in the hospital signs a HIPPA agreement, they know what is at stake.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Seaofclouds Agreed. Where I work, we have to take an electronic “refresher” course every year on HIPAA and privacy issues. Then we have to sign a statement saying we understood it.

Here2_4's avatar

Anonymously, or face to face, or however you need to go about it to get her to stop, then you should do that. If it was ever me she talked about by name or pointing, I would report her on the spot. Many many people feel the same way I do, so in a way, any one of them could be me. I don’t care what she knows, who she talks about, or how nice she is. Privacy is in shorter supply every day, and she is violating a chunk of what is left.
When Michael Landon learned he was going to die of cancer, he had some things he wanted to make neater before he shared the news with his family. He never got that, because someone told someone who told press. The story came out bold and loud and really caused a stir for his family. People should be allowed to make certain choices for themselves, and how they share information about their health is a big one.
Find a way to stop her, or someone like me will.

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