HIPAA Hop Style

In the most recent CERT class we were given a presentation on the emergency medical system, including a tour of two of Keller’s MICU’s (they have three, with two in service and one backup).  One of the most interesting bits of equipment they carry is the Lifepak 12, and we were given a full demonstration of its capabilities (well, everything except for the defibrillator cool grin ).  I learned that I have a normal CO2 output.  But I digress…

The other topic of the night was HIPAA (HEALTH INSURANCE PORTABILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACT) and how it relates to the emergency medical service.  The most important provision of HIPAA in this area is the privacy rule.  To sum it up, a health provider may not release personal health information to anyone but the patient.  The penalties are fairly stiff and they increase with each offense. 

We were told that later in the class we would be given the opportunity to sign up for their ride-along program.  HIPAA becomes important in that respect, because by going on ride-alongs, we will be bound by HIPAA rules concerning disclosure (there may also be some liability on the city if we were to violate the rules, which is why we were given the basic HIPAA training).  What was most interesting were the situations that might be considered a violation of HIPAA.  He brought up some points that I hadn’t thought of, although they make sense once you think about them a bit.

Personal health information includes any information that could serve to identify a person and a condition they may be suffering from.  The example he gave was as follows:  Consider a cul-de-sac with seven houses.  If EMS responds to a child drowning incident at one of those houses, and there is only one house with a pool (or only one house with a child), identifying even the cul-de-sac would be a HIPAA violation, since that would also identify the family and the child that drowned. 

I suppose it’s good to protect people’s medical privacy, but the law does seem a bit absurd in that it only applies to the medical providers.  If the police respond the the above scene, they are under no obligation under HIPAA rules to keep any of the information private since they aren’t medical providers.

I’m seriously considering going on the ride along program when it’s made available to us.  However, it appears that HIPAA will seriously curtail what I can share with people. 


  1. lib says:

    WRT ride alongs. Civilian ride along programs are widely available through your local law enforcement agencies and require no certification. Not only can this give one a little more insight into what the law enforcement community is doing, but also how they see their role in the community and their obligations and duties in the State of Texas. It also is a lot of fun to ride in a squad car and see what patrol is like smile In the event of an emergency, as a CERT responder you would almost certainly be dealing with LE, so it might be useful. HTH

  2. Kevin White says:

    HIPAA is a thorn in the side of many a practicing physician. I’ve heard the rant three or four times from my father about how restrictive and irresponsible the new law is. Sounds like a huge PITA.