We all know a doctor cannot release your medical records without your permission, but what about when the doctor is ordered by the courts to turn patient records over without your knowledge? Does the authority of the court override your choice as to whether your private medical records remain private? A recent decision out of Florida’s 2nd District Court tackles this multi-layered issue.
The case, Paylan v. Fitzgerald, dealt with a legal malpractice claim filed by Paylan, a medical doctor. Paylan alleged Fitzgerald failed to adequately represent her legal interests in several criminal charges stemming from accusations Paylan wrote three illegal prescriptions for Demerol to a patient referred to as “L.B.” After the criminal charges had been dismissed, Paylan filed a lawsuit claim against Fitzgerald, her former lawyer.
As part of the discovery process of the case, Fitzgerald served Paylan with interrogatories, which are a form of written discovery exchanged by the parties before trial in order. Interrogatories can be written questions to answer or a request to produce documents.
One of the documents Paylan was asked to provide was a list of procedures in a certain timeframe in which she used Demoral. This request created a problem for Paylan because turning over the information meant disclosing “L.B.”‘s medical information without permission or consent.
When Paylan expressed concern about the situation, the lower court ordered her to comply within twenty-five days. Paylan then went to the District Court and asked them to quash the lower court’s order so she wouldn’t have to turn over the records.
The District Court examined how the federal HIPAA law interacted with Florida statutes prohibiting the release of a patient’s medical records without clear written authorization from the patient or their representative.
It is important to note a state law can only be overridden by HIPAA when the state law is less severe than the federal law. This concept, known as preemption, means Florida can pass laws to protect the rights of patients more than HIPAA does, but cannot take away any rights HIPAA provides. As a result, the Florida statute provides the correct standard for protecting patient privacy in this case.
Paylan’s former lawyers argued the situation fell within an exception to the statute allowing the records to be released if a court issues a subpoena and gives proper notice to the patient. In this instance, there was no written authorization from “L.B.” allowing the release of the records nor was there any evidence “L.B.” had been given notice of any kind.
Because nothing was stopping the lawyers from properly notifying “L.B.” in advance, the court ruled the patient’s right to privacy required compliance with Florida law as well as HIPAA. The interrogatory was quashed, and Paylan did not relinquish her patient’s medical records.
Although your right to keep your private medical information confidential is well-established, there are always situations and loopholes you must be aware of to protect yourself properly, as a skilled lawyer, like a family attorney Tampa FL trusts, can attest.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Mckinney Law Group for their insight into medical records and the law.