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What is HIPAA?

It’s the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, a federal health-privacy law that went into effect in 2003.

Does HIPAA mean journalists can’t report on individuals’ medical conditions?

No. HIPAA does not regulate what the press can report. But it does limit the kinds of information that hospitals and various government agencies can disclose.

What if a reporter learns health-related information from a source not associated with an agency?

Health-care information the news media obtains independently is not subject to HIPAA. It may be published or broadcast freely, subject to any newsroom policies limiting the publication of information about minors or the deceased.

If a crime or emergency occurs on the grounds of a medical facility, does HIPAA trump the news media’s right to access the location while emergency responders are in charge of the scene?

There does not appear to be a case where HIPAA has been used to bar a journalist’s access to a crime or emergency scene. The issue of trespass would be the bigger issue if the incident occurred on private property. (See the FAQ “What rights do journalists have at accident or disaster scenes?”) Having said that, there have been cases of misinterpretation of HIPAA, and there have been instances of law enforcement and fire department personnel saying they can no longer release information once commonly disclosed. This may extend to denying access to a crime or emergency scene.

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Last system update: Friday, April 23, 2010 | 16:05:11
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