Ebola’s latest victim: privacy

If you value your medical privacy, try not to get Ebola.

Nina Pham, the nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for a Liberian man who died from the virus, was a willing participant yesterday when her doctor in Dallas showed up with a video camera.

News media has, basically, thrown the book out the window when it comes to extending privacy.

CNN, in its story “Who is Nina Pham,” for example, drove to the woman’s church to get the dirt on the nurse, learning that she’s very religious. Ah.

Meanwhile, Amber Joy Vinson, another nurse infected with the Ebola virus after caring for Duncan, released a statement Thursday through the Kent State University website.

“Our family has been overwhelmed with support and love for Amber and our extended family over the last 72 hours, and we thank you for those prayers and well wishes. Amber is stable, and we are continuing to work with her doctors as her treatment progresses.

Amber is a respected professional and has always had a strong passion for nursing. She followed all of the protocols necessary when treating a patient in Dallas, and right now, she’s trusting in her doctors and nurses as she is now the patient.

To that end, we ask that the media respect Amber’s privacy and that of our family during this overwhelming experience. The time will come down the road for more further public involvement, but for now, your continued love and prayers helps greatly.”

Does any of this violate HIPAA, the law that clamped the cone of silence on matters of health care and individuals? Probably not, MedPage Today says:

Michelle De Mooy, deputy director for consumer privacy at the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, said that in the case of Ebola exposure, “only a covered entity (normally an employee is designated to do this) that is authorized to prevent or control the migration of the disease can let someone know if they have been exposed to the disease through contact or shared space with the infected person.”

So “when the hospital workers in Nebraska looked at the records of the doctor with Ebola, they still violated HIPAA, but when the ‘hospital’ officially announced the negative test results of a deputy sheriff in Dallas who was tested for Ebola, they did not,” she told MedPage Today in an email. “My guess is their explanation for publicly announcing this would be to keep the community from panicking.”

As for the unnamed patient at Emory, if he or she did not agree to any disclosure, “Emory is restricted to reporting the patient’s condition but nothing else,” as opposed to the Dallas hospital that was treating Duncan, who had been talking to the press voluntarily, De Mooy said.

She added, however, that “The public’s right to know in the context of public health does trump HIPAA, by design — the Privacy Rule allows authorities to warn anyone who might have come into contact with the patient — this is in the best interest of all parties.”