Health Information Management

Are coroners and medical examiners entitled to receive PHI?

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 28, 2003

Q: Are coroners and medical examiners entitled to receive PHI?

A: A covered entity may disclose protected health information (PHI) without authorization to a coroner or medical examiner for the purpose of identifying a deceased person, determining a cause of death, or fulfilling other duties as authorized by law.

Covered entities are not required to remove information about persons other than the patient before disclosing the record.

According to HHS, coroners and medical examiners sometimes need psychotherapy notes to determine cause of death, such as in cases where suicide is suspected. So, the privacy rule permits coroners or medical examiners to obtain all PHI necessary to determine an individual's cause of death, including psychotherapy notes, without any consents or authorizations.

The rule makes it clear that where a hospital performs the duties of a coroner or medical examiner, the hospital's on-staff coroners can use PHI while conducting post-mortem investigations, and other hospital staff can analyze information associated with these investigations, for example, as part of the process of determining the cause of death.

A disclosure to a coroner or medical examiner should be included in an accounting of disclosures.

Editor's note: Brought to you by attorneys Marty Baxter and Gretchen McBeath at Bricker and Eckler, LLP (http://www.bricker.com) and The Quality Management Consulting Group, Ltd. (http://www.qmcg.com). E-mail: mbaxter@bricker.com or gmcbeath@bricker.com

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