Prime Healthcare defends its disclosure of patient records – are they begging for a federal and state prosecution or what?

There’s a follow-up to a situation I blogged about earlier this week where a patients’ records were revealed to media by executives of Shasta Regional Medical Center without explicit patient consent.

Michael Hiltzik provides an update to his previous coverage:

Prime Healthcare has responded, with a letter and a public statement, to my January 4 column about the flouting of patient confidentiality by its corporate office and two executives at its Shasta Regional Medical Center. In the response, Prime states for the record that it believes its disclosure of medical information about the patient, Darlene Courtois, was legal because she “voluntarily disclosed her medical records” to the investigative reporting organization California Watch. The company’s statement is here.

Read more on The Los Angeles Times.

Having read their statement, all I can say is “wow” and they should probably shut up before they step in it even more. In their statement, they write:

SRMC has reviewed the facts and circumstances surrounding the claim made by Mr. Hiltzik and determined, in consultation with legal counsel, that there has been no violation of federal and  state privacy laws.

Well, they don’t get to make that determination, despite their assertion. The federal and state agencies or the courts make that determination. All they can really say is that they didn’t think they were violating any state or federal law and still don’t think they are.

But it gets worse (from my perspective). They go on to say:

By publicly engaging in these activities, SRMC was informed and believed that the patient waived her HIPAA rights and that in fact she wanted her medical information to be disclosed and examined. In addition, among other things, SRMC had a good faith belief that the disclosure, if any, was necessary to prevent or lessen a threat to the health and safety of the public.

How do they figure that SRMC was “informed” that the patient waived their responsibilities under HIPAA? Are they mind readers? Of course not. Perhaps they drew an inference, but an inference does not negate any legal obligations.

I think it’s ridiculous that they now throw in a “good faith belief” that their disclosure was necessary to prevent a threat to the health and safety of the public. The only clear threat I can see in the situation is a threat to their reputation. Are they arguing that if people believed the previous statements by California Watch they might avoid necessary care at SRMC?

I really think they’ve dug themselves into a deep hole on this one and it would have been better to say that their understanding was that if she talked, they could, too. They still would have been wrong under HIPAA (as I understand it, anyway), but their repeated insistence that they did nothing wrong legally is only inviting a smackdown by HHS and the state.


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