Practitioners and their support staff have become very familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) over the years, but as a recent ruling shows, the law continues to evolve.
In the October 2015 decision in Soto et al. v. The City of New York et al., 2015 WL 6503819 (SDNY 10/28/15), it was decided that oral transmission of medical information was allowed with a duly signed HIPAA authorization. Here are the facts of the case:
- The plaintiffs were injured, and as a result, their medical conditions became an issue in the lawsuit;
- During the course of discovery, HIPAA authorizations for subsequent and prior treaters were provided to the defendants to obtain the necessary records and information;
- The defendants requested to speak to the subsequent practitioners that the plaintiffs had seen, in private, specifically requesting that this be allowed without the plaintiffs and without the plaintiffs’ counsel present; and
- The plaintiffs’ counsel moved to block the defendants’ access to speak to the plaintiffs’ treaters, claiming it was ex parte—and that the previously given HIPAA authorization only applied to the written medical record.
The Court ruled that the HIPAA authorization provided by the plaintiffs does include oral discussions, and that the defendants were absolutely entitled to speak to the subsequent treaters without having the plaintiffs present. As there was a duly executed HIPAA authorization and plaintiffs placed their medical conditions at issue, there would be no breach of HIPAA during said discussions.
This particular matter really confirms what HIPAA is all about: patient consent. If the patient gives consent, he or she is giving consent to all forms of communication, not just written. Note: A HIPAA authorization may stipulate the release of only a certain type of communication has been granted, but absent such a stipulation, both written and oral communication is covered.
HIPAA is a federal law that is very much alive and continues to evolve. There have been numerous updates and modifications since its inception, and as Soto clearly illustrates, court cases continue to shape its application.
It is important that healthcare providers understand HIPAA and its application to their practices. Should you have any questions about whether your practice is indeed HIPAA compliant, consider consulting with a HIPAA professional. Contact me today with questions or comments.
Stephanie J. Rodin, Esq.
Rodin Legal, P.C.
Tel: (917) 345-8972
Fax: (917) 591-4428