A Hip, A Hop, A HIPAA Violation

While employed at the hospital, I participated in Schwartz Rounds. The first time I went, what I thought was going to be a lecture, turned out to be a ‘join-me-at-the-table discussion’ with doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, child life specialists, volunteers, and students. We discussed the very delicate topic of “What Happened To My Patient?”

Schwartz Rounds, I learned, are held throughout the health care system at over 450 organizations. After looking over the Schwartz Rounds website I came across this quote from an anonymous participant and I resonated so strongly with it after experiencing my first Schwartz Rounds:

“Schwartz Rounds are a place where people who don’t usually talk about the heart of the work are willing to share their vulnerability, to question themselves. The program provides an opportunity for dialogue that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the hospital.”

I highly recommend visiting the Schwartz Rounds website, listed at the bottom of this post, for more information about these highly informative sessions.

The two people leading our discussion were an ICU doctor, who is ever so familiar with the phrase of “what happened to my patient?” and a 10+ year veteran volunteer who also has experienced the heartbreak of “what happened to my patient?” Both from different sides as one is an employee and the other is a volunteer. It made me respect both sides so much more in different ways.

For the ICU doctor, he constantly has to wonder, “what happened to my patient?” perhaps in the sense of:

“What could I have done differently?”

“Did I do everything I possibly could have to help that patient and family?”

“Was there something I was missing in that patient’s diagnosis?” 

For the veteran volunteer, after weeks and weeks of returning to the same hospital and the same units, after awhile, she wonders, “what happened to my patient?” perhaps in the sense of:

“There wasn’t any family around every time I visited… did they get put into the foster care system?” 

“Where did my patient go that I spent the last month with? I know she was pretty sick…did she die?” 

“What happened to that baby I held every week I volunteered for the last six months?” 

While the ICU doctor has more to wonder about what he/she could have done differently to possibly create a better outcome for their patient, the volunteer has to constantly wonder for every patient they spend time with, “what’s going to happen to you when I come back next week?” and that’s a very vulnerable and fragile space to be in.

Due to HIPAA laws, volunteers aren’t able to know a lot of things about their patients, that they sometimes spend a considerable amount of time with, such as the patient’s last name, diagnosis, or medical history. This law is in place in order to keep the patients safe. It is difficult sometimes to keep patient identity under wraps as an employee and once while brainstorming with a male nurse regarding a patient, I had mentioned an idea that unfortunately was against HIPAA. He threw this quote at me and it is forever one of my favorites:


Following this Schwartz Rounds discussion, I have so much more respect for the volunteers who consistently put themselves into these humble positions in order to benefit the patients, knowing they won’t get much closure in return. That is a tough job. Whereas I can come back next week and ask my coworker, “Where’d Alice go?” once I see her room empty on Monday. The Monday volunteer who’s spent the last 5 weeks playing with Alice won’t be able to ask me the same question.

Know that as a volunteer you are loved and appreciated by your child life specialists. We know the vulnerable position you have put yourselves in and are grateful that you continue to show up week after week making the most of each interaction you have with the patients.

Thank you for all that you do.

Click Here To Learn More About Schwartz Rounds

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