Law enforcement may request protected health information

November 13, 2013

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires health care practitioners to protect the privacy and security of patient information. However, practitioners may be called on to release protected health information to public health, public safety, or law enforcement officials under specified emergency response situations, according to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

The HHS-OCR introduced a HIPAA Guide for Law Enforcement to help police and other emergency responders address information-sharing situations where the HIPAA Privacy Rule may be at issue.

Health care practitioners may review the guide in order to better understand circumstances under which they may be asked to provide federally protected health information (PHI) to public officials, according to the AOA Office of Counsel.

The new HHS-OCR guide describes the HIPAA Privacy Rule for law enforcement and other emergency responders and identifies entities required to comply.

The guide also outlines several permissions that allow the disclosure of health information in common law enforcement situations, such as during an emergency response.

According to the guide, health care practitioners may report protected health information to a law enforcement official in order to assist a crime victim, report child abuse or neglect, comply with a court order or court-ordered warrant, comply with law (such as when reporting stab wounds or gunshots), report evidence of a criminal activity or suspicious death, or prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to an individual or the public.

The OCR worked with the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to develop the guide.

The new HHS-OCR HIPAA Guide for Law Enforcement and related materials are available at http://tinyurl.com/nymvczd.

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