There may come a day when you face a request that potentially violates HIPAA.
For example, hospitals and doctors can sometimes find themselves in the midst of a criminal investigation. Perhaps a homicide victim died at your hospital, or a pain management physician prescribed drugs taken in an overdose. There are many circumstances that can cause the police to seek medical information regarding a patient (dead or alive).
Don’t be caught off-guard if an officer or detective asks you to provide a patient’s information without the patient’s consent. They may even claim you “must” disclose medical information or that “HIPAA doesn’t apply because the victim is dead.”
Cooperating with law enforcement must be done in compliance with HIPAA and state law regarding the confidentiality of medical records. While there are exceptions that permit the release of protected health information (“PHI”) in the absence of a subpoena or warrant (for example, limited disclosures to help identify a suspect in a crime or a missing person), law enforcement does not have an all-encompassing right of access to medical information.
Bottom Line: Regardless of whether the patient is dead or alive, remember that the patient’s medical information can still be PHI, subject to HIPAA and state laws. When in doubt whether a HIPAA exception applies, ask for a warrant or subpoena!
If you have a police officer at your facility and need advice ASAP, we are glad to help.