How to Report a Breach of Confidentiality in Nursing

Written by ireland wolfe
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How to Report a Breach of Confidentiality in Nursing
Nurses must keep most patient records confidential. (Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

In the medical field, providers have a responsibility to keep most aspects of a patient's care confidential. Patients need to be able to trust their nurse not to share personal information. Nurses are required by their licensing boards, ethical guidelines, and in some cases by the law, to only release patient information with the patient's consent. There are various exceptions to that rule though, depending on circumstances.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Review confidentiality guidelines for nurses. There are situations where a nurse may have to break confidentiality to protect a patient. These cases include child abuse, homicidal thoughts, and other dangerous situations. Nurses are required to keep records and inform a patient's insurance company of diagnosis and treatment.

  2. 2

    Keep records of the breach of confidentiality. Write out what happened and be as detailed as possible. You will need this information later on.

  3. 3

    Inform the nurse's supervisor, if you still feel there was a breach of confidentiality. Find out who supervises the nurse and explain situation. If you do not believe the supervisor will follow-up, you can also make a report to a manager or another supervisor. Inquire about the grievance procedure. Some agencies and hospitals have formal grievance forms.

  4. 4

    Find the licensing board for nurses in your state. Each state has a board of nursing that is responsible for licensing each nurse that practices in the state. Go to their website to file a formal complaint. Most boards need a detailed written description before they can evaluate the complaint. Review your records and provide a written and signed complaint including dates, places, and any witnesses. Nursing boards will take each complaint very seriously and will investigate the breach of confidentiality. Punishments vary and the board may hold an ethics hearing if the charges are serious enough.

  5. 5

    File a complaint through HIPAA, if the breach of confidentiality was related to medical records. You can notify HIPAA of the problem by mailing or faxing the local office. You can also e-mail the complaint. The HIPAA website can be found under the "Resources" section.

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