HIPAA Concerns or Institutional CYA?

August 15, 2008

Thomas Robey of Hope For Pandora muses on a case in which a blogger associated with a teaching hospital was called on the carpet. Now the good Dr. Robey, perennial optimist that he is, attributes the concern expressed by said hospital as merely a sign that they are “out of their league” and are having trouble catching up with the idea that blogs are becoming very commonplace. Me, I’m a little more cynical.

Let us begin with a flavor of the objection posted at the constructive procrastination blog:

a new medium … trying to figure out the best way to allow people their freedom to write … within the rule of patient privacy …hospital safety with regards to material that might be legally protected …some of the information is protected by the institution if it involves a mistake or possible error so that it can be used for teaching and education and eventual improvement of the system. If that information gets brought out in some alternative channel it may no longer be protected and instead of being used to improve a system it could be used to harm it…certain sorts of “intellectual property” rights …Just because I was taking care of the patient does not really mean the material I am discussing is necessarily mine. Technically, most of what happens inside a hospital belongs to the hospital. It was likened to someone going home from a private corporation and blogging about their neat new discoveries at work only to find they had blogged possible trade secrets.

Holy Moly! Translation: “We’re not too sure about this blogging but it seems like it could be bad and stuff and were agin’ it! So stoppit!
The thing is that I think there is a lesson here for academic/professor bloggers as well which is 1) the growing trend for being concerned about intellectual property in general, 2) mutterings about how professor’s materials such as syllabii and powerpoint files really belong to the University and 3) CYA and institutional fear. So maybe pay a little bit of attention?
Obviously the major motivation for institutions is that they don’t want any dirty laundry leaking out should something get nasty. Like a professor-harassing-student thing. Or an international angst-fest over a tenure denial case or two. Institutions would rather keep that stuff quiet, I have little doubt. And since, as Thomas observed, they don’t know from blogging they are going to react with random flailing. There may be a prof-blogger or two caught in the thresher before this is all hashed out.
Anyway, go play over on HfP.

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