Q&A: Fire department medics and HIPPA

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From the South Bend Tribune:

Q: I’m trying to get some very basic information on a fire department medic call regarding a guy who fell off his roof and was critically injured. The captain of the medic unit said HIPAA prohibited him from telling me the patient’s name or date of birth. Is that right?

What does HIPAA cover when it comes to fire department calls for emergency medical services? 

A: If HIPAA applies to the fire department’s emergency medical service, they are correct in their assumption that identifying information about any patient is confidential.

The question is whether HIPAA applies.

For the fire department’s EMS to fall under the scope of HIPAA, it must transmit health information in electronic form in connection with an electronic transaction such as billing or submission of a benefit claims form.

If they aren’t involved in electronic billing, I don’t believe HIPAA would apply.

But the other problem is Indiana law, which was changed in anticipation of HIPAA regulations.

If the fire department’s service falls under the definition of an emergency ambulance service, then IC 16-31-2-11 applies. It limits public inspection of ambulance run information to:

• Date and time of request for ambulance service

• Reason for request for assistance

• Time and nature of the response to the request

• Time of arrival at the scene

• Time of departure from the scene

• The name of the facility where patient was delivered.

You’ll note there’s no identifying information as to the patient or location.

Since they’re claiming HIPAA, I suggest you first try to eliminate that basis for denial by determining whether they electronically bill for emergency care provided.

It appears they are a medic rather than ambulance service, so IC 16-31-2-11 would not apply. They couldn’t reveal medical information (medical records exception to Access to Public Records Act), but the name of patient shouldn’t be secret.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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