Health Information Management

Create a policy for sharing patient information with law enforcement

HIM-HIPAA Insider, April 19, 2011

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Law enforcement officials must follow an established process to acquire information about patients, says Chris Simons, RHIA, director of care coordination and HIM and privacy officer at Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook, ME. Officers will sometimes try to circumvent that process, and this puts healthcare staff in a difficult position.

“It can be tough. Sometimes officers don’t call first. They show up at the hospital in uniform looking for information,” Simons says.
Remember that you can always wait and consult legal counsel, but once information is provided, you can’t take it back, she says.
Officers are sworn to protect the law, and reminding them about due process (e.g., obtaining a court order or a subpoena) sometimes helps, thereby protecting everyone’s rights, she says.
So how should healthcare organizations respond to law enforcement requests pertaining to patients?
“We have had a long-standing policy on disclosures of patient information to law enforcement officials, and we have also done a lot of education on the topic,” says Nancy Davis, MS, RHIA, director of privacy and security officer at Ministry Health Care in Milwaukee.
State specifically when staff should not disclose information, but also make allowances for disclosures to law enforcement officials when patients are a danger to themselves or others.
Ministry adopted a 14-page policy for Reporting/Disclosing Patient Protected Health Information to Law Enforcement Officials. It addresses HIPAA and Wisconsin state law.
The policy reminds providers to disclose or release only the minimum necessary PHI to accomplish the intended purpose. Ministry’s policy includes specific provisions and addresses disclosure of PHI under many circumstances, including but not limited to bioterrorism threats, suspected child abuse, missing persons, and hunting accidents.
Editor’s note: To read more, access this article in the April issue of Briefings on HIPAA.

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