In 1996, Congress passed a law bringing into effect the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, part of which was meant to protect the privacy of patient information. The simple act of calling a patient and leaving a message saying the results of a clinical test was now forbidden and considered a HIPAA violation.

Patients have enjoyed the knowledge that if their providers were caught
violating the privacy laws under HIPAA, they could face massive fines
and jail time. For some reason, HIPAA has yet to make an appearance on most soap operas in this country.

Countless storylines relate to the divulging of information from hospital employees to people who are not the actual patients that should not be shared. One storyline on Days of Our Lives a few years ago related to a character finding out that her brother was the biological father of a child that was believed to be the child of a different man. What the character did was to leave the folder related to the child on the bed stand of her brother when he happened to be in the hospital for an unrelated reason.

Of course, there was shock and disbelief. He couldn’t believe that he was this child’s father. There were tests that he felt had to be done to prove that he was the child’s father. It was discovered that his sister was the one that leaked the information. At no point in time was the sister prosecuted as she should have been for violating HIPAA.

I have seen many other storylines discussed online from other soap operas that have similar issues. A doctor has a piece of information about a patient that the patient wants nobody to know about, and yet he goes ahead and discloses it. Everyone soon realizes that it was the doctor that got the information, and yet there is never any accountability for it under HIPAA.

What are some HIPAA violations that you have seen on your favorite medical dramas? Does any show acknowledge HIPAA?


  1. Well done, Gordon!
    We’ll have to start a list here in the comments of of “entertainment” violations of the HIPAA code!
    It’s funny today that CVS announced it was partnering with Google Health:,2817,2344488,00.asp
    As we move away from paper records to digital records and as people begin to access their records online, I wonder if more HIPAA violations will be in the queue as passwords an other private login information is shared and stolen?

  2. It’s sad how some people make it just too easy to rob them – and they then complain that it is the technology that enabled it, not their usage of it 🙂

  3. Maybe it’s the latter combined with watching so many movies in which technology prevents thieves from stealing things. 🙂

  4. I think you’re on to something there, Gordon! The blending of fantasy and reality can be dangerous, if not inappropriately comforting.

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