Richard Poole: A cruel hoax with deadly results
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.
As a professional registered nurse, I am deeply disturbed by the recent news that one of my colleagues took her own life, according to news accounts, because of her unsuspecting participation in a publicity prank just to boost radio station ratings.
I did not personally know Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse that was on duty at King Edward VII’s hospital in the UK, when so-called radio personalities from Australia, Mel Greg and Michael Christian posed as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles of the Royal Family, called to get personal information on Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William. However, I feel a professional bond and understand the responsibility she was faced with every day. The hospital had supported her and said she acted in a professional and caring manner as she really thought she was speaking to the Royal Family. I am deeply saddened that she felt she had no other alternative than to end her life. Condolences go to her family in this time of tragic loss.
What many people do not know, or even try to understand, is that nurses are challenged every day with the decision as to who should know what about patients they are caring for. In the United States, HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy laws are very strict. HIPPA states that a patient's information can be shared when required by police, when it is necessary for public health, or if permission is given for family or friends to view the information.
I am employed by the Lake City VA Medical Center and following those rules and regulations are on the forefront every day. I am positive that Lake Shore Hospital and Lake City Medical Center have similar policies for release of information. At the VA we are required to sign privacy agreements of understanding several times a year and must complete annual training on privacy. We ARE held accountable for proper dissemination of patient information.
Now that being said, the nurse still has to make a decision as to what information is disclosed, either over the phone, other electronic media, or in person. The medical record has those listed that the information can be shared with and 99 percent of the time (exceptions below), if the person making the inquiry cannot be properly identified as a documented point of contact, the information is not released or discussed.
Please note, nurses have been cursed at, threatened, and rarely, but sometimes, physically attacked, if we do not tell an inquiring person what they want to know. Nurses try to be patient advocates. We also must take into account family and friends when making these decisions, as well as the wishes of the patient during each hospital stay. The patient sometimes wants some people to know about their hospital status, while excluding others; it is called Opting Out. There are few exceptions such as when phone calls are received from other medical facilities where a patient is being treated and sharing information in a timely manner is necessary for the safety and welfare of the patient. Information is also shared with law enforcement in a time of emergency. There are protocols in place for releasing this information.
Bottom line while caring for a patient, privacy is important, but is just one of the many legal, moral, psychological, safety and medical decisions that nurses have to make every day. Take what you have to do for one patient and multiply this by as many as 50 or more patients that you may interact with during the day, depending on where you work, it is a daunting task. I truly believe that nurse Saldanha believed she was speaking with the Royal Family and acted in the patient’s best interest.
Pranks have their place, for some people, but this is a prank that went entirely too far. The radio personalities need to be fired for their unprofessional and egregious behavior. This is just one more example how our public airways, worldwide, are turning into the media of trash. Some call it enlightenment, others entertainment, many progress; call it what you may but I feel it is a sad sign of the times.