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Legal Issues Surrounding Patient Data While Working With Law Enforcement, by Lorman

Gain an understanding of when medical documents can and cannot be disclosed to law enforcement.

When a nurse at a Utah hospital was arrested for refusing to draw the blood of a traffic accident victim, the resulting video went viral and resulted in widespread praise for the nurse and condemnation (and an eventual firing) of the officer. When a Houston hospital reported a suspected medical identity thief to the local sheriff, the fact that the patient was in the country illegally became the focus of reporting on the matter and eventually resulted in a $2.4 million HIPAA fine for the hospital. Both of these cases point out the difficulty medical record custodians face when the privacy obligations applicable to medical data collide with the needs of law enforcement. This difficulty will likely only increase in a pandemic environment involving vaccine passports and other possible public health enforcement activities. This topic will outline the rules related to medical record privacy, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and its regulations. This topic will discuss which disclosures are required, which are permitted, and which are prohibited. It will also highlight the specific instances when disclosure to law enforcement officials is required or permitted; and the specific steps that medical record custodians should take to ensure that the rules are followed. Specific law enforcement situations will be discussed, and proper responses (and requests for information) will be provided.

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