Your medical records are considered confidential information. Therefore, when an attorney brings a medical malpractice case your behalf, you must sign a medical authorization for the release of your medical records.
The confidentiality of medical records was established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Under this act, health care providers, health insurance companies, and other entities involved in the administration of health care may not share personally identifiable medical information without your consent. Patients who believe their health information was improperly revealed or was not properly protected may file a complaint with the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which will investigate and penalize the offender if warranted.
Arizona Laws Protecting Medical Records
A. Confidentiality of Medical Records and Payment Records
Many states have their own laws regarding health information privacy, some of which predate HIPAA and others which were passed after it to strengthen safeguards or enhance punishments. It is important to note that state laws generally cannot weaken protections provided by HIPAA only enhance them. This is called “preemption.”
In Arizona, A.R.S. §12-2992 provides protections for the confidentiality of medical records and payment records. It notes, “all medical records and payment records, and the information contained in medical records and payments records, are privileged and confidential. A health care provider may only disclose that part or all of patients medical records and payment records as authorized by state or federal law or written authorization signed by the patient or the patient’s health care decision maker.”
In a personal injury lawsuit such as a medical malpractice case, a plaintiff generally waives protections provided by A.R.S. §12-2992 by filing a lawsuit. However, waiver is only for medical conditions and records related to the lawsuit. Thus, if a patient sues for a knee surgery, records related to gynecological care will generally be protected and not discoverable.
B. Doctor-Patient Privilege in Arizona
Communications between physicians and patients made for the purpose of receiving treatment are confidential in Arizona and may not be divulged in civil court proceedings under A.R.S. §12-2235. A patient generally waives this privilege by initiating a lawsuit in which the patient’s health is at issue. However, this privilege is waived only in regard to the condition at issue in the lawsuit.
Because the doctor-patient privilege belongs to the patient, the patient must assert the privilege. If a doctor begins to disclose privileged information in court, the patient (or his or her attorney) must object. Otherwise, the patient waives the privilege.
C. Healthcare Data Breaches in Arizona
In Arizona, information about an individual’s medical or mental health treatment by a healthcare professional is considered “personal information,” requiring notification within 45 days if information was wrongly released by an institution. (H.B. 2154). Notice must contain the date of the breach, a brief description of the information disclosed, and contact information for the three largest consumer credit reporting agencies and the Federal Trade Commission.
If you believe your medical information was released without your consent, an Arizona attorney be able to assist you.