Ms. V, aged 39 years, was a nurse working in a medical clinic in upstate New York. She had been working for the clinic for the past 7 years and was pleased with both her career and the professional direction it was taking. Over the last several years, she had received glowing reviews from both supervisors and patients, and the clinic had responded by giving her increasingly greater responsibility.
The best part of the job was its regular hours, which enabled Ms. V to spend quality time with her 3 young children. Ms. V heard stories from nurses at other facilities who had to work weekends, nights, and double shifts, and she appreciated her working situation. She imagined a long and successful career at the clinic. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.
One typical day at the clinic, Ms. V was treating a new patient, Mr. D, 30, for a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Although Ms. V had never met the patient before, there was something very familiar about him that she puzzled over as she conducted the examination. As she stepped out of the examination room for a moment to retrieve a prescription pad, she suddenly realized why the patient seemed familiar. His name, age, and description were the same as the new boyfriend of Ms. V’s sister-in-law, Mary.
Mary had been dating someone who sounded just like Mr. D for a few months, and although Ms. V had not met him, she had heard a lot about him from Mary, who was clearly taken with him. Ms. V’s heart sank. She did not know what to do. Assuming this was the same man, how could she not tell her sister-in-law about this distressing news, which could potentially affect her health?
Although Ms. V was well aware of privacy issues and knew she should not be discussing her patient’s health in this manner, she decided to contact Mary to find out if the patient in her clinic was Mary’s boyfriend. In the hallway, Ms. V texted her sister-in-law to ask the name and description of her boyfriend on her cell phone. Mary responded promptly, answering with a name and description that matched the patient in the exam room.
Now Ms. V was even more torn. She was close to her sister-in-law, who was only in her 20s and who viewed Ms. V as a role model. Ms. V felt that Mary had the right to know this information since she was either already having sexual relations with Mr. D, or was considering it. With only a few moments to think it through, Ms. V made the decision. She picked up her cell phone again and began texting her sister-in-law, letting her know that her boyfriend was at the clinic and had an STD. Then, she went back to the exam room and finished up with her patient, who thanked her and left.