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Dear Abby: Privacy of patients’ medical data

Dear Abby: “Concerned in Massachusetts” (Feb. 20) used her status as a hospital employee to access her husband’s medical records and found a history of sexually transmitted diseases.

I’m a registered nurse with 40 years’ experience, and every health care organization that I know of teaches employees about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, violations and that accessing a patient’s private medical information is a criminal offense. It is essential that patients know they can trust us to protect their privacy. We have specific policies against using employee status to access a relative’s medical information.

“Concerned” is lucky she still has a job. At my institution, she would be terminated for violating organizational policy and federal law. She wouldn’t have to worry about how to broach the subject with her husband; she would be explaining why she was fired. He may not be a saint, but neither is she. Her actions were unacceptable and reflect a clear lack of integrity and honesty.

– Safeguarding the Right to Privacy

Dear Safeguarding: Thank you for your informed response. You are not the only reader who was appalled at what “Concerned” had done. Read on:

Dear Abby: Like “Concerned’s” husband, I, too, am labeled as high risk for STDs based on a medical survey I completed, although I have had a monogamous 30-year marriage and do not do drugs of any kind. In that survey, they asked how many partners I had in my lifetime. Those few other partners were before I met my wife.

“Concerned” indicated that her husband had been treated twice for STDs “some years back.” What does that mean? Were they married then? If not, is he labeled high risk due to his previous behavior? Perhaps there is something deeper in the relationship that needs addressing – such as why there are weeks between sexual contact with her husband.

It’s ironic that she’s bent out of shape over infidelity concerns, but thinks it acceptable to betray the privacy and ethics rules governing medical professionals.

– Vincent in West Virginia

Spouse used dog’s toothbrush

Dear Abby: My husband mistakenly used the dog’s toothbrush from the bathroom cabinet. I had it in there with a bowl of homemade doggie toothpaste that I was trying on the dog. I didn’t realize it until now. Should I tell him?

– Quiet So Far in Vermont

Dear Quiet So Far: If I were you, I would open my mouth and “Speak!” before your husband does it again. If he’s grossed out, it will be no more so than the rest of us who read your letter.

From now on, keep Rover’s toothbrush in a different location.