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Nursing practice question: is texting/receiving patient information a HIPAA rules violation?

Reprinted with permission of the Texas Nurses Association, [c] 2012

A growing trend in health care today is the practice of physicians texting patient information - specifically, texting orders to other physicians, independent licensed practitioners, and nurses in hospitals or other health care settings. Sure, it's a fast, convenient method for physicians to relay information and orders but is it legal?

The answer is NO. Texting patient information is not legal unless the text messages are transmitted through a secure and encrypted network.

According to The Joint Commission?, it is not acceptable for physicians or licensed independent practitioners to text patient information or patient orders to nurses, physicians, licensed independent practitioners in the hospital or other health care setting. The reasons:

* Text messages do not provide message recipients with the ability to verify the identity of the person sending the text, and

* There is no way to keep the original text message as validation of what is entered into the medical record.

This practice of sending/receiving text messages of patient information can lead to HIPAA violations for the hospitals or health care settings, and to the person or persons who accept and act upon the texted messages of patient information or orders. The violations can range from civil law suits to criminal suits resulting in fines up to $50,000 and up to one-year imprisonment for any person who knowingly obtains or discloses individually identifiable patient health information (2).

The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, the "Privacy Rule" that implements the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, establishes the protection of certain health information. As is explained by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services HIPAA Privacy Rule:

"A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals' health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public's health and well being. The Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information, while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing. Given that the health care marketplace is diverse, the Rule is designed to be flexible and comprehensive to cover the variety of uses and disclosures that need to be addressed."

The nurse's duty is to ensure patient safety and security of patient information in the workplace. Nurses need to know their workplace's policies or protocols on the texting of patient information. Most of all, nurses must report any repeated violations related to this practice through the workplace's chain of command to ensure that no HIPAA violation occurs.

If the practice of texting patient information other than over a secure and encrypted network is going on in your workplace, it's your responsibility to immediately notify your supervisor.


(1.) The Joint Commission (2011), Standards Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) accessed on 11/23/2011 from

(2.) US Department of Health and Human Services (2011), HIPAA rules accessed on 12/ 6/2011 from

Comments/questions are welcomed at

By Therese Clinch, MSN, RN, Practice Director, Texas Nurses Association
COPYRIGHT 2012 Georgia Nurses Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clinch, Therese
Publication:Georgia Nursing
Date:May 1, 2012
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