Recently ESPN reporter, Adam Schefter, tweeted out a photo of a professional football player’s medical records raising the question about social media and privacy. It led to an active discussion online regarding social media and privacy. People were outraged that a reporter would have tweeted someone’s private medical reports and wondered if laws were broken.
The answer yes and no.
As a journalist, Schefter did not violated HIPA (an abbreviation for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a 1996 law that protects medical records.) He is not considered a covered entity. Covered entities are hospitals, doctors, EMTs/Ambulance services, health plans, and health care clearinghouses. Non-healthcare providers aren’t held to the same standards as those in healthcare.
That said, whoever gave him access to those medical records may have violated HIPA. That could cost the individual their job. Depending on their position, they could lose their license to practice. And in some cases could go to jail. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could impose fines on the hospital and individual. It is unsure as of publishing this post that HHS will levy fines; however, due to the high profile nature of this from social media and news media coverage, one could surmise that fines will be forth coming.
The Question of Social Media and Privacy
Was this professional football player’s privacy violated? Most certainly. He did not give his explicit consent to release them. They were released with his knowledge. Due to the timing of this reporting, it damaged his contract negotiations with his employer and will limit his future career.
Social media can amplified the story damaging the individual’s reputation and affecting their ability to conduct business effectively. Media outlets are farming social media for stories by looking at trending topics, hashtags, and frankly other news organizations.
Can we expect privacy on social media?
To a certain extent no. Anyone with access to a smart phone and a data plan can post information on social media in the matter of seconds.
Is that right? No, it is not.
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