Request for data on Boston Marathon bombing victims draws privacy protests

Union president says 'busy-body' public health agency violated HIPAA
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An attempt to collect information on patients treated during the Boston bombings by the city's Public Health Commission--in an effort to prepare responses to future disasters--may be a HIPAA violation, HealthcareInfoSecurity reported.

Late last month, the commission sent a request to hospitals and clinics in Boston asking for information on bombing victims, including names and contact information. The commission was told by legal counsel that the request was in compliance with the privacy law, spokesman Nick Martin told HealthcareInfoSecurity.

Several first-responder unions, however--in particular the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association--don't see it that way. The association sent letters to 40 hospitals and clinics threatening legal action if any information was sent.

"[Public health officials] have no business seeking our members' personal information, including whether they are seeking counseling because of the horrible visuals from that day," association president Thomas Nee said, according to HealthcareInfoSecurity.

According to Martin, such information is kept in a "secure electronic database." Nee, however, expressed concern that because some of the requests were sent via fax, return information could be sent in the same manner, making it more vulnerable.

"[The commission] is casting a big net for personal information that's none of their business," Nee said. "They're being busy-bodies."

In the wake of the April 15 bombings, hospital preparedness for such situations became the topic du jour in healthcare, particularly with regard to execution. While general consensus seemed to be that hospitals handled the situation well, other disaster scenarios have shown the importance of keeping such plans--and those implementing them--updated.

"A plan sitting in a folder on a desk is not going to be very helpful unless the providers in the emergency department know about that plan and know how to implement the plan," Selim Suner, M.D, the director of disaster medicine and emergency preparedness in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rhode Island Hospital, told FierceHealthcare.

To learn more:
- read the HealthcareInfoSecurity article

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