HIPAA Limits Info Mined in Malpractice Lawsuits

     (CN) – The federal HIPAA privacy law overrides a Georgia law allowing a plaintiff’s doctors to disclose private medical information to defense counsel in medical malpractice cases, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled.

     The opinion affects how the Georgia Court of Appeals will review Amanda Moreland’s medical malpractice case. Moreland objected to the defense counsel’s ex parte conversations with the three previous doctors of her deceased husband.
     Georgia law allows a patient’s physicians to discuss his medical history with defense counsel. A plaintiff gives up his or her privacy in exchange for the opportunity to win the case.
     Justice Thompson concluded that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) overrules that law.
     “HIPAA requires a physician to protect a patient’s health information, unless the plaintiff is given reasonable notice and opportunity to object,” Thompson ruled.
     Thompson noted that the ruling did not prohibit all communication between the plaintiff’s physicians and defense attorneys.
     “Counsel can make inquiries which are not intended to elicit protected health information,” Thompson wrote. “Such contact could include … the best methods for service of a subpoena, determining convenient dates to provide trial testimony, or the most convenient location for the anticipated deposition of the physician.”

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