Our partners Elizabeth Litten and William H. Maruca and I were quoted by our good friend Marla Durben Hirsch in her article in Medical Practice Compliance Alert entitled “Watch for HIPAA Pitfalls When Involving Police in ID Checks.” Full text can be found in the October 26, 2015, issue, but a synopsis is below. Marla’s article was also featured in Part B News.
Houston area OB/GYN clinic Northeast Women’s Healthcare has received attention due to a situation involving the verification of a patient’s identification by contacting law enforcement. The clinic believed that a patient was attempting to use false identification in order to receive treatment at the facility, which prompted them to contact law enforcement. When local authorities were given the license number, it was determined that the information provided was false which led to the arrest of the individual seeking treatment.
Although the individual was alleged to have tampered with government records and has been noted as an undocumented immigrant, some questions have surfaced whether the clinic’s procedure violated HIPAA regulations by disclosing protected health information.
Some of the considerations identified in the article for providers that are concerned about possible false identification submitted by a patient data include the following from Marla’s article:
- “Providers appear to be under no obligation under HIPAA to report suspicious documents,” points out Maruca.
- “It’s not up to a doctor’s office to be a cop. You need to balance quality and safety issues versus the veneer of not wanting to treat the undocumented,” Litten says.
- “The controversy also is fueled by its occurrence in Texas, with not only a large demographic of immigrants but also where immigration status is a hot button issue and has garnered significant publicity.” Kline says.
- Kline continues by stating, “Emotions on this are high in Texas. It heightens the sexiness of the case.”
The obligations of providers to report to authorities that an individual has submitted suspected false identification to secure healthcare services can be complex and fact-specific. Depending on the fact pattern, the matter can even become a media event. In light of heightened sensitivities to immigration status, this issue can be expected to be a developing area of HIPAA and State law on identity theft, which may differ from HIPAA.