Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Were Sen. Jackman's Privacy Rights Under HIPPA Violated?

The Indianapolis Star splashed a story on its online edition reporting that State Sen. Robert Jackman (R-Milroy) had fallen ill in his State House office and had to be rushed to Methodist Hospital for treatment. The story includes a photo of Sen. Jackman being carried out of the State House on a gurney by paramedics with an oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose.

Aside from the Star’s complete lack of taste and insensitivity to Jackman’s privacy in posting the photograph of Jackman in a state of distress just hours after the event, the story included information about Jackman that would seem to raise questions about whether his privacy rights under HIPPA were violated. HIPPA is the federal Health Insurance Portability and Administration Act which, among other things, ensures the privacy of a patient’s medical records and information.

The Star article cites Dr. Heidi Harris, a Carmel physician who was serving as the legislative doctor for the day, as commenting on Jackman’s condition. “Though Jackman has had a history of asthma problems, he likely did not suffer an asthma attack, said Heidi Harris . . . She added that Jackman did not show symptoms of heart problems.”

Dr. Harris’ legal duty under HIPPA required that she not comment on her patient’s health condition unless she had obtained the patient’s consent to provide information to the public.

The Senate’s communications director, Jamie Jorczak, also released information about Jackman’s health condition to the Star. She reported that he was experiencing “significant back pain” and was having “difficulty breathing” when he was rushed to the hospital. She also reported that doctors were performing a “battery of tests” to determine whether to admit him to the hospital, and that his condition was listed as “fair.” It is unclear whether Jorczak had been authorized by Jackman to release the information.

While a public official gives up some privacy the rest of us expect because of his/her public position, when it comes to their health care, it seems we should afford them the same zone of privacy we all expect. Besides, it's the law.

UPDATE: An updated version of the story on the Star's online edition reports that Jackman was released from the hospital and quotes the Senate spokesman as saying he most likely experienced a bad reaction to medications he was taking. The Star has removed Dr. Harris' comments from the story. Hmmm.

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