HIPAA and Wiretap Act May Obstruct Nursing Home Camera Installation

An Illinois house committee will be meeting soon to debate the privacy issues raised by the installation of web based video cameras in nursing home residents’ bedrooms and how HIPAA Rules and the Wiretap Act regulations can be complied with, according to a recent CBS Local report,

The installation of closed circuit video cameras in nursing homes has been proposed after numerous allegations of neglect and abuse in nursing homes across the United States. Nursing home employees are also accused of the financial exploitation of residents and each year many reported cases lead to legal action. However, proving abuse and neglect occurred to a court of law can be difficult, especially when the victim suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Attempts have been made in both Illinois and Missouri to pave the way forward for the installation of video cameras in nursing homes to monitor for possible abuse and to deter staff from abusing residents. When abuse happens, evidence will be captured on the cameras or footage can be monitored remotely.

The issue is that video cameras record audio and video feeds, and there is provision made for this information under the Health Insurance Portability Act as Protected Health Information. The information recorded by the cameras itself could lead to the residents being abused or suffering from financial fraud, should that data fall into the wrong hands.

As such there are some legal obstacles to be tackled before cameras will be allowed to be installed. In Illinois, new legislation is planned to permit the use of the cameras provided consent is received by both the resident and their legal guardians.

However, there are also problems with the Wiretap Act. In instances of abuse, since the patient may not know the camera is present, and any person entering the room similarly would not be aware of the camera, consent to film would not be given and any recorded audio or visual footage may not be used as evidence as it is likely to breach federal wiretapping laws. It has been argued that the issuing of a public notice about the cameras would help in this regard, but alone that is unlikely to be a sufficient case.

There is also the issue of what happens to the data recorded. For the cameras to be effective the signal needs to be transmitted over the web and the cameras need to be controlled from a remote location. There is a big question mark over data security protocols that will be put in place to secure the data from hackers.

The Office for Civil Rights can issue fines of up to $1.5 million for HIPAA violations, civil lawsuits can be filed for damages and state Attorney Generals have now started to issue fines for HIPAA data breaches.

The committee will meet to consider the issues surrounding the proposal with the matter likely to go to the vote later next month.