| April 20, 2006
A reporter is banned from a hospital. (via the Houston Chronicle’s MedBlog)
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What a series of dumb moves.
It’s not their call to decide what does or doesn’t get published. But hey, if that doesn’t work, try throwing your weight around. They have made themselves look like jackasses.
Cardinal rule No. 1: Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.
If evidence is obtained by police or a DA through illegal or unwarranted means, doesn’t that mean the evidence can no longer be used? Similarly, if a reporter gets ahold of leaked information which is legally protected for confidentiality (which they had to know), I don’t understand how they get the right to publish it. I mean, I know they do, I just don’t agree with that law. And even if it is legal, it seems unethical.
Anon 2:44, the HIPAA penalties apply to the health care agency that is the manager and guardian of the information. No such restrictions apply to the general public, including the media. If you have ever spent time in a country where the media is owned and operated by the government, you will appreciate the importance of having an independent press.
Technically speaking, the person who leaked the transcript would be the one who violated HIPAA – assuming, of course, that it was a health care employee. Probably that’s why the Muskogee hospital was trying to shake down the newspaper for the name of its source.
Data practice laws can vary from state to state, but the subject of the data generally has some leeway in choosing to release the information to a third party. For instance, a disciplinary hearing for a public employee is usually closed to the public, unless the employee requests that it be opened and thereby waives his/her expectation of privacy. I’m wondering if that was the case here – the physician who was the subject of the hearing also was the one who leaked the transcript. Judy Miller of the NY Times notwithstanding, the courts have generally upheld the shield law that says reporters cannot be compelled to give up a source, except in rare circumstances where there is imminent public danger and no other way to obtain the information. But this would be very rare.
You can’t really compare the Muskogee situation to an illegal search warrant; search warrants are issued in criminal matters and this is not a criminal matter.
I would have to compare the transcript to the published story to be able to comment on the ethics. It’s like ethics in any other area of life: often there’s no clear-cut answer and it ultimately becomes a judgment call based on the overriding interests at hand.
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