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Groups Express Support for Hospital’s Decision to Protect Patient Confidentiality

Posted: August 06, 2009|Category: Privacy

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Three organizations involved in patients’ rights issues issued a statement today supporting Rhode Island Hospital’s recent refusal to turn over private medical information about a patient to Providence Police officials. The statement from the groups – the R.I. Medical Society, the R.I. Disability Law Center and the R.I. ACLU – in response to the controversy follows below:

“Providence police have criticized Rhode Island Hospital for protecting a patient’s medical confidentiality. However, based on the information available about this incident, we commend the Hospital for respecting the patient confidentiality laws. The limitations in those laws on the release of medical information serve a critical purpose, and are designed to protect the privacy of us all.

“The police have provided no concrete explanation as to what specific medical information they immediately needed in order to investigate this crime. The police assisted in transporting the victim to the hospital, were aware of his need for medical care, and further reviewed a video confirming that an assault took place. Assuming that the victim, in critical condition, was not in a position to talk with the police about what happened, it is difficult for us to imagine what help that police access to his confidential medical records would have provided in terms of investigating the assault. It also remains unclear how specific or broad the police department’s request was for the victim’s private medical records, and why they did not seek to contact family members to get information they believed would be helpful.

“Ultimately, if laws allowed broad police access to confidential medical records without a patient’s permission, a major component of our right to medical privacy would be lost. Much more compelling reasons need to be articulated before this important principle is so easily discarded in the name of law enforcement.

“Police officials are quoted as seeking to justify their right to obtain this patient’s medical records by citing the state’s Patient Safety Protection Act. However, that law solely addresses medical records maintained to address hospital errors in providing care to patients, and is clearly inapplicable to this type of situation.

“In sum, we fully recognize the police department’s interest in seeking cooperation from individuals and agencies when investigating a serious crime. But those investigations must also respect other crucial societal interests, such as medical confidentiality.”

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