The law is referred to as HIPPA. It stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). For a prima on HIPPA see Patient Confidentiality, The Times They Are a Changin’, by Albert B. Lowenfels, MD discussion of HIPPA and the Hippocratic Oath.
"What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about." Hippocratic Oath
Patients don’t have time to ask and to explore how the hospital stores its sensitive and private information. Whether it is a main frame or pc terminal patients need to know their private information is secure and will not be available to those who are just curious, even when that person is employed by the hospital.
Hospital employees need to be aware that patient information is private and they can be fired for just being curious. Looking up information can lead to criminal charges if improperly handled and provided to third parties. It’s no different than an employee taking cash from the register to just borrow for the week. Both are essentially taking something that doesn’t belong to them.
And if you’re fired for violating HIPPA, unemployment benefits are probably not going to be available to you. When fired for cause, violation of clear work rules – it’s pretty clear that you should know right from wrong – the employee is ineligible for unemployment benefits. Be smart, not curious.