When does an emergency override HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires optometrists and other health care practitioners to protect the privacy and security of patient information.

However, practitioners may be asked to release protected health information to public health, public safety or law enforcement officials during specified emergency response situations, according to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

The HHS-OCR created a HIPAA Guide for Law Enforcement to help police and other emergency responders understand and address such situations. Practitioners are encouraged to review the guide, too. It provides an understanding of circumstances under which they may be asked to provide protected health information, according to the AOA Office of Counsel.

For example, according to the guide, practitioners may report protected health information to a law enforcement official:

  • To assist a crime victim,
  • To report child abuse or neglect,
  • To comply with a court order or court-ordered warrant,
  • To comply with law (such as when reporting stab wounds or gunshots),
  • To report evidence of a criminal activity or suspicious death, or
  • To prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to an individual or the public.

November 14, 2013

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