Health Information Management

Q&A: Registered sex offender information

HIM-HIPAA Insider, October 27, 2009

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Q. A patient who was admitted to the hospital wants to know whether any registered sex offenders have been admitted to her floor. Does HIPAA allow her to obtain this information? Outside the hospital, this information is public.
A. HIPAA does not permit covered entities to release this information without written patient authorization. Encourage patients with concerns to contact the local police department. As you have noted, this information is public. Covered entities have an obligation to protect patient information and leave issues of criminal conduct and law enforcement to the police. Absent a strong reason to suspect that a patient presents imminent harm to another person either inside or outside the hospital, we must protect a patient’s health information. This includes any criminal history. If you think a patient presents an imminent threat to another individual, you may have a duty to warn that individual. Review the scenario with your privacy officer and/or legal counsel before taking action.
Note: Chris Simons, RHIA, director of utilization management HIM and privacy officer at Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook, ME, answered this question in the October issue of Medical Records Briefing.

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