Who controls the release of medical information about public figures?
January 11, 2011 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Who determines what medical information about public figures is made public, especially when the public figure can't decide for herself?

I can read detailed information about Gabrielle Giffords' injuries and medical condition in the newspaper. This has made me curious about how these release decisions are made: Who decides what medical information can be made public in a high-profile case? Her family? Her doctors? What's the role of privacy laws in these circumstances? Could a public figure who experienced a violent crime and was unable to make medical decisions later sue over the public release of her personal medical information?
posted by medusa to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
it's the same for them as it is for anyone else - next of kin or whoever is granted power of attorney. that being said, when it comes to celebrities, often people who have come into contact with then during these medical/difficult issues will get compensated by the press to give details, even though it is unethical and in some cases illegal...i.e a nurse on duty in the hospital getting paid by US weekly to detail the condition of a celebrity/political figure that is hospitalized, etc.

if it can be proven that next of kin/power of attorney did not tell press anything, then some legal recourse can be taken in certain cases, like if the doctor released treatment information or details on what happened of their own accord.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 9:54 AM on January 11, 2011

Federal law allows hospitals to release basic "directory information" about patients unless they (or their surrogate decision-maker) has requested otherwise. In other words, they can say "Mr. X was admitted to our hospital and is currently in serious condition" without any problems. I believe they can also say "Mr. X was treated and released." This isn't just useful for public figures; hospitals need to be able to direct visitors looking for a specific patient, connect phone calls, etc...

As assasinatdbeauty says, they need permission to release more information. If the patient cannot give this permission, they can get it from the same person they will go to for other medical decisions: the family or someone pre-designated by the patient for this purpose.
posted by zachlipton at 10:36 AM on January 11, 2011

later sue over the public release of her personal medical information?

it's not violent crime, but this comes up with celebrities and rehab a lot. some nurse takes a payday from some gossip mill to spill information on the star, the star then sues the rehab facility.
posted by nadawi at 11:26 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: in some cases illegal

Actually, it's illegal in all cases in the U.S. to share medical information about a patient without their permission. Here is a good, brief overview for consumers about the HIPAA Privacy Law, which is what makes it illegal for healthcare providers or insurers to share information about your health status except for direct treatment and billing purposes, without your consent. Of course if a patient has a healthcare proxy decision-maker or someone with healthcare power of attorney, then that person can also give permission. In some cases the patient or family will actually information to the press, like when celebrities have their publicist release a statement.
posted by vytae at 2:07 PM on January 11, 2011

*actually provide information
posted by vytae at 2:08 PM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: This is interesting, thanks. In Gabrielle Giffords' case, her doctors appear to be giving press conferences. Does that mean her family gave the doctors permission to do so?
posted by medusa at 4:21 PM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: IANAL, but, yes, the doctors can only release information beyond the directory info at the behest of someone empowered to do so - if not the Giffords family, then the power of attorney (probably a limited power of attorney given to her press officer.)
posted by gingerest at 5:57 PM on January 11, 2011

yeah - there is no way doctors are holding press conferences, especially about an elected official, without it being signed off on by the people she already set as responsible. it'd default to her husband, but with his NASA stuff and her on the road, like others in this thread, i would guess and aid or something has limited power.
posted by nadawi at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2011

Related, sort of: "Three employees at the University Medical Center in Arizona have been fired for accessing the confidential medical records of victims in the shooting rampage." However, "Officials say they aren't aware of any confidential patient information being publicly released."
posted by misterbrandt at 9:36 PM on January 12, 2011

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