What Happens When The Police Demand PHI

It happens in every emergency department: a law enforcement officer comes into the ER at two o’clock in the morning and demands to test the blood alcohol levels of a patient brought in after an auto accident. The officer pulls an exhausted nurse to the side in the hopes that the nurse will forget his or her training, or become anxious enough to give up the information for fear of being arrested. Yet no matter the specific facts, the question remains: can a hospital give law enforcement officers a patient’s PHI without authorization from the patient? In some situations, is it even required?

There is a provision under the HIPAA Privacy Rule that allows, and in some cases, requires, entities to disclose patient’s PHI to law enforcement without the patient’s authorization. However, state law can complicate this picture with more restrictive regulations and guidance.