Connecticut is the latest state to report police officers’ frustration in getting medical information under new federal health privacy rules. The Hartford Courant says Rocky Hill police Officer Richard Degen just wanted to know the condition of a woman injured in a traffic accident. The hospital initially wouldn’t confirm that the woman was there, even though he knew she had been taken there by Life Star helicopter. He eventually got permission from the victim to talk about the accident. “I knew who she was. I took down her name and address from her driver’s license,” Degen said.
Law enforcement officials complain that Degen’s experience is becoming all too common when police encounter HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Implementing rules that took effect in April are slowing police investigations and, in some cases, impeding the prosecution of crimes, police officials say. Police officers across the nation say they are being denied access to anyone, including crime victims and missing persons, who have opted not to be listed in hospital directories. Although HIPAA makes exceptions for criminal investigations, some hospitals err on the side of caution and refuse to release any information.
Under HIPAA, hospitals must allow police to interview patients and provide information about patients’ conditions when a serious crime has been committed or someone is suspected of a crime. But the law does not require hospitals to provide information when there is no apparent evidence of a crime or in the case of a traffic accident. The law requires hospitals to report to police when a patient has gunshot wounds or a child is suspected to be the victim of sexual or physical abuse.
HIPAA prohibits paramedics from giving police information about a patient’s condition unless the police department is designated by the state as the first responder agency. HIPAA also has cut off police access to “run sheets,” reports paramedics use to describe a patient’s medical history and what treatment a patient received.
Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran said the law seems to be counterintuitive. “We don’t want to know if the guy has gonorrhea,” Cetran said. “We just want to know if he’s alive or dead.”