Health Information Management

Q&A: Working with police

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 16, 2009

Q. What does HIPAA say about a police officer giving information to a physician’s office about people who may be hurting themselves to get pain medications? The officer gave us a name as a heads up if she presented herself to us. The officer told us the patient received pain medication from another state, and that she lost her children because of her drug addiction and lifestyle.

Would it be in violation for the physician treating her to say that, because of the police report, he could not and will not be a party to her drug seeking addiction? Where does the police department stand? Where does the physician stand?

A: Law enforcement agencies are not covered entities under HIPAA, so they are not required to comply with the privacy rule. They may alert the physician of a patient with drug-seeking behavior if they choose. It would not be a violation to tell the patient about the police report, but it may be better for the physician to simply refuse to prescribe pain medication to her based on his own assessment of her condition.

Editor's note: Mary Brandt, president of Bellaire, TX-based Brandt & Associates, LLC, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney regarding legal matters.

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