HIPAA and Law Enforcement

I had a phone consultation with an author who wanted to discuss HIPPA.

As you know, HIPAA is a set of laws designed to protect patient privacy.

Here’re links to a previous series I did on HIPAA: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

His question centered around whether or not law enforcement was privy to medical info.

In the pediatric ER– we will readily discuss medical issues with law enforcement because it usually deals with us reporting child abuse.

However, I didn’t know much about how my adult ER compatriots generally approached the issue. HIPAA is difficult to understand in its entirety and most healthcare professionals are apt to err on the side of providing no information rather than get in trouble for giving out information that they shouldn’t.

Keep in mind that the main crux of this law was also to give you the power to always view your medical information. A hospital or medical provider cannot keep your records from you. Even if you are in the hospital– you should be able to ask to see documents. What the hospital may do is have a representative sit with you to “watch” you so 1. you don’t tamper with the record and 2. they can explain the medical lingo.

Unfortunately, some places make it challenging for patients to get their information. You should absolutely have to sign a medical release form. But after that, I’ve know of hospitals to state it can be up to two weeks or more for records and that they may charge you for the copying of each page. That can be frustrating experiences for families.

Pertaining to this author’s question– come to find out through a little research for said author, that HIPAA does allow for discussions with law enforcement personnel.

Here is the particular section that pertained directly to the authors question from this link:

http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/summary/index.html

Law Enforcement Purposes. Covered entities may disclose protected health information to law enforcement officials for law enforcement purposes under the following six circumstances, and subject to specified conditions: (1) as required by law (including court orders, court-ordered warrants, subpoenas) and administrative requests; (2) to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, material witness, or missing person; (3) in response to a law enforcement official’s request for information about a victim or suspected victim of a crime; (4) to alert law enforcement of a person’s death, if the covered entity suspects that criminal activity caused the death; (5) when a covered entity believes that protected health information is evidence of a crime that occurred on its premises; and (6) by a covered health care provider in a medical emergency not occurring on its premises, when necessary to inform law enforcement about the commission and nature of a crime, the location of the crime or crime victims, and the perpetrator of the crime.34

Just goes to show you what you can learn whilst doing some research!

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