Cops and Docs—Responding to Law Enforcement Requests

October 25, 2017 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​The tension between healthcare providers' duty to protect patients and the duty to respond to law enforcement requests was addressed by Edward Fabi, JD, registered in-house counsel for Sutter Health, on October 16, 2017, at the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) conference in Seattle, Washington. "Whose job is more important when law enforcement and health care come to cross purposes?" Fabi asked. Fabi highlighted several high-profile incidents reflecting this conflict, including the tragedy at Sandy Hook (2012), the Naval Yard shooting (2013), and the "Utah incident" (2017). After the Sandy Hook shooting, resolving law enforcement requests for the mental health records of the 20-year-old shooter, who committed suicide at the scene, took more than a year. Healthcare workers, the speaker noted, tend to be law-abiding citizens who want to cooperate with law enforcement; law enforcement officers, meanwhile, are often pursuing persons whom they perceive as "bad guys." Copresenter Linda Bjorklund, RN, BSN, MHS, CPHQ, risk management consultant with the Office of General Counsel, Health Law Services Team at Sutter Health, stated that healthcare professionals "take care of everyone," noting they do not get to decide "who is a 'good guy.'" While law enforcement may present as having the right to any information sought, protections are in place (e.g., warrants and court orders) to assist both healthcare practitioners and law enforcement officers to obtain personal health information legally.

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