Saturday, October 26, 2013

Legal Assn 9

A newspaper reporter has requested a copy of the health records of Medicaid mothers and babies born in the last month citing the fact that the hospital is a state academic medical center, supported by state funds thus, subject to the state’s public records or freedom of information laws.  What is meant by such a law? 
Freedom of Information Act of 1967:
Built into the legislation are exceptions that govern documents such as medical records (if reasons for disclosure do not outweigh the exception), in order to preserve the privacy of the individuals about whom they are written.
The FOIA specifically provides for public disclosure upon request of many types of information in the possession of federal agencies, except those files that would constitute a clear, unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.  This exemption is used to deny any FOIA requests that include PHI or protected health information.
Exception to the Ohio Public Records Law, as reported in the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ Open Government Guide (2006), include:
Any record, except births, deaths, and the fact of admission or discharge from a hospital, that pertains to the medical history, diagnosis, prognosis, or medical condition of a patient that is generated and maintained in the process of medical treatment is exempt.
What is important is for the healthcare provider to understand that while the intent of the open records laws is to keep society informed of government activities at the federal, state, and local levels, there is a responsibility for agencies that collect and maintain personally identifiable health information to protect the privacy rights of those they serve. (Brodnik)
What this means for this reporter is that the health records of these individuals would be exempt from the FOIA because of the sensitive information contained in the records meeting the rules for exception.  The most the reported could receive is birth, death, facto of admission or discharge data.  All other information in the records would be exempt and protected by patient privacy laws.
Brodnik:  Fundamentals of Law for Health Informatics and Information Management

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