Legally, law enforcement or an “officer of the court” — which includes private attorneys in some states — can subpoena your health records, according to an NPR report on digital information. Even under HIPPA, health care providers “may disclose protected health information” in response to subpoenas. Think this doesn’t apply to you? Your health records could be subpoenaed for legal disputes with an employer, insurance company, or former (or soon-to-be former) spouse, for example. The NPR story tells of a father whose mental health records were used against him in a custody case.
When asked why health care providers provide records willingly, an attorney interviewed for the story said, “The companies generally want to comply with the law in the way that’s least expensive to them. They don’t want to have to hire lawyers; they don’t want to have to send doctors or other representatives to depositions or court hearings. They just want to give you the records and move on.”
While the law has always allowed for the subpoenaing of health care records, electronic records typically turn up more detailed information and cover a longer time span than paper records, according to the NPR story. Logistically, it’s also easier and faster for the office staff to print or send electronic records than it was for them to dig through and copy paper files.
Despite the unlikelihood my medical records will ever be legal fodder, the thought that they could be is chilling. As soon as I heard the story, I wanted to share it so that you all would be aware of it, as well. I’m relying on the accuracy of NPR’s report, since I have no legal background. If you can share a legal perspective, please leave a comment with your insight.