New York law enforcement authorities are finding that it can be difficult to get information from hospitals under new federal rules on patient privacy, the Albany Times Union says. “Hospitals and health care facilities are erring on the side of caution in terms of releasing the information,” said State Police Lt. Glenn Miner.
The changes came about because of provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that went into effect in April. Unless a patient signs a release form, a health care facility in most cases is not supposed to even confirm a patient is being treated. Susan Stuard of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said, “There are a lot of instances where you’re permitted to release information to police, but you’re not required to do it.”
The Times Union says that police are grumbling in some communities where hospitals have interpreted the new rules conservatively and in certain cases will not disclose patient information without a court order.
Historically, most hospitals allowed police officers to walk into emergency rooms and interview patients while they were being treated. In some placeds, it’s routine for detectives to ride with assault victims in ambulances and to take statements while paramedics or doctors work on the patients. Under the new rules, Ellis Hospital in Schenectady will not disclose information about a patient to police, in most cases, unless an officer has the patient’s name and is investigating a crime.
The privacy regulations are stirring controversy between law enforcement and health care workers in other states. In Missouri, the state Hospital Association has adopted a hard-line stance and instructed hospitals not to release information without a patient’s consent. At some hospitals, police no longer have open access and must report to a security office where officials will check with a patient before giving any information.
In the past, a firefighter, police officer or paramedic may have been able to check on the well-being of a patient they treated or through the course of an investigation. But emergency room workers are being warned that casual conversations about a patient’s condition or treatment, even with other emergency workers, is forbidden.
The greatest difficulties are beginning to surface in instances where medical officials could be left to decide whether a criminal act has taken place — such as drunken-driving cases or drug overdoses. Stuard, whose group represents many hospitals in the New York City metropolitan area, said, “Hospitals have one set of interests, and law enforcement is trying to do what it is they do. And sometimes they don’t always mesh well.”