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Q: If a psychiatric nurse is looking at an emergency department (ED) patient’s information as part of his or her job, and notices that a friend’s child is in the ED, can the nurse go visit this patient?
A: No. The nurse must not use the information he or she obtains during the course of doing his or her job for anything other than work. In this case, the nurse discovered the information incidentally and should not use it to visit the child since doing so would not be related to the nurse’s work. On the other hand, if the friend notifies the nurse of the child’s ED stay, or if the nurse finds out the child is there in some other way that is unrelated to work, it would be acceptable to visit.
Editor’s note: Chris Simons, MS, RHIA, director of health information and privacy officer at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, New Hampshire, answered this question for HCPro’s Medical Records Briefing.  This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions