I have a friend who's a programmer. When they have a s^1*ty day, they can choose to whine to me about it. What this user said, what this project manager did, this code a previous programmer wrote was crappy.

I have another friend who works in a hospital. Obviously, their days can be fare worse than a programmer. But, their ability to unwind and tell me about the work day seems constrained by HIPAA regulations.

But I'm assuming HIPAA is not a blanket "You can't say you work for No Such Agency" type rule (I have at one point read NSA employment handbook, and that is exactly what they stated).

So what exactly is the line that distinguishes HIPAA-protected information from general healthcare workplace information that can be shared with a friend?

E.g. presumably they can't say "John Doe had an episode of arrhythmia last night on my shift". But can they say "I had a patient with arrhythmia episode" without naming names? Or describe patients in generic demographic terms? ("dealt with a demanding middle age woman patient who kept whining")?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Jonast92, motosubatsu, Magisch, AffableAmbler Mar 5 at 15:56

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    Since this is dealing with the specifics of HIPAA, I wonder if this question isn't better for Law SE – Seth R Mar 2 at 15:51
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    The exact line between right and wrong is hard to identify and can be very easy to cross by accident. In general you have crossed the line if you give any information which can be directly linked with an individual, or small group of individuals. However, a more practical real world answer is that a healthcare worker will be as constrained as they choose to be and this choice will vary significantly between individuals. – P. Hopkinson Mar 2 at 15:58
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    This information doesn't exist in a vacuum. Why wouldn't you just go read the relevant documentation? Here's a start - hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/laws-regulations/… – joeqwerty Mar 2 at 16:05
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    Any answers you get here are anecdotal at best, unless someone here is an actual attorney who has specific HIPAA expertise, which seems like a long shot. – joeqwerty Mar 2 at 17:01
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    @joeqwerty Even if somebody does come by and say they're an actual attorney, they're not your attorney, unless they happen to be someone you're seeing professionally for legal services. – Ed Grimm Mar 3 at 2:56

Ask your friend. Chances are that your friend has been informed on what is allowed to discuss and up to which degree, to avoid law suits. They probably have special courses on what they can and can not talk about outside of their professional environment.

My girlfriend is a doctor. She is allowed to talk about her work in any shape or form for as long as you can't identify the patient she might be talking about. For as long as their privacy is respected, it's okay to talk their case as a hypothetical patient.

She can say: "I had a patient today who had the flu". She can't say: "A famous politician of the X party came in today with the flu". It must not be possible to trace back who she's referring to.

However, we live in Europe so the exact same rules do not apply as in the USA. However, considering we have to comply with the GDPR regulation, I'd think that Europe would be more strict on this than the states but you should ask someone who actually knows the regulation.

An exact answer to your question, referring to this specific set of regulation, is really off topic for this platform because interpretations on regulations and legislation doesn't exactly apply here. Your best bet is to ask your friend, a lawyer or contact someone who enforces this regulation.

  • I have a doctor friend well, anaethsiologist really, and it was the same : story with no chance of working out who... – Solar Mike Mar 2 at 20:09
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    I've been told by friends who work in hospitals in the US that this is basically the HIPPA requirement. That said, they're also cautioned that cumulative disclosures could result in a violation if they're not careful. Mostly that means they're advised to talk about the situation of people the other person knows all together, just in case enough dots come out to be connected. – Ed Grimm Mar 3 at 2:54
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    I worked in a hospital in Australia while I was studying at uni as a security guard and undertook the same privacy laws training as the doctors and nurses did. It was basically what Jonast92 suggested - you can talk about anything as long as you don't identify who it was about. – solarflare Mar 4 at 0:18
  • I've worked in US healthcare, and this is the de facto standard most people use. Unless you are a lawyer, this being common shouldn't make you feel particularly secure in sharing stories. And, especially, the stories health care professionals are most likely to want to tell are also the most likely to be useful in identifying the people involved (Many times I couldn't discuss a very interesting case, because the details that made it interesting would be very easy to match to public records and/or media reports, thus identifying the people involved). – Upper_Case Mar 5 at 15:57

I think the answers given are generally correct: you can't give out information that can be identified with a patient. I'd also like to mention that hospitals typically have chaplains. I'm a volunteer chaplain at a hospital in Virginia, USA, something I do in addition to my completely different weekday job. The hospital usually has a chaplain on duty or on call, and you can talk with the hospital chaplain about patient details, because it's all confidential and the information doesn't leave the hospital. If you just need to blow off steam, you can tell others in general terms what's bothering you. If you want to go into detail, please consider talking to a hospital chaplain. Where I volunteer, we're always happy to assist the staff.

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