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An Indiana court has awarded a plaintiff $1.44 million in a professional liability case she brought against a pharmacist, according to reports from Mondaq. The case highlights how HIPAA requirements affect the day-to-day work required of pharmacists and other allied health professionals, as well as the potentially stratospheric cost of violating those requirements.

Here’s a look at what happened in the Indiana case and how you can ensure that your practice maintains HIPAA compliance and avoids costly fines and judgments.

HIPAA Privacy Violation: Improper Disclosure of Client Information

According to sources, the million-plus-dollar judgment resulted from the following events:

  • A Walgreens pharmacist improperly accessed one patient’s information and shared it with her husband.
  • Upon gaining access to the patient’s information, the husband harassed and intimidated her.
  • The alleged reason for the harassment and intimidation was that the patient had a prior relationship with the pharmacist’s husband that resulted in the birth of a child. The husband apparently used information from the patient’s file to deny child support payments the patient requested.

The Indiana Superior Court found in favor of the patient, noting that accessing and sharing her information violated standards of care outlined by HIPAA. In its decision, the court noted that the pharmacist was negligent and guilty of privacy invasion and publication of negligent facts (a professional liability / malpractice matter). It also found that Walgreens had liability for failing to terminate the pharmacist after it learned about the behavior.

What’s perhaps most interesting for other pharmacists and allied health professionals, however, is the potential decision of higher courts.

It’s also important to remember that, even if you don’t think you violated HIPAA guidelines, a dissatisfied patient could bring a lawsuit against you. If your state doesn’t have clear legal precedents outlining how such a lawsuit should be handled, you’ll need solid legal representation to help you argue your case. A solid Malpractice / Professional Liability Insurance policy can pay for the costs of mounting such a defense, which is crucial given the high cost of legal fees.

Finally, keep lines of communication open among yourself, your patients, and your employees. Many legal actions can be avoided by addressing small problems before they grow into big ones.

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