Legal Q&A: Do's and Don'ts of Providing Information

By Baker, Ken | Drug Topics, May 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

Legal Q&A: Do's and Don'ts of Providing Information


Baker, Ken, Drug Topics


If you have a practice-related legal question, please e-mail it to drug.topics@medec.com. We will get you a response from Ken Baker, R.Ph., J.D., vp. and general counsel at Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Co. The following is his response to the question for this edition.

Q: I practice in a retail pharmacy in Memphis. We often have phone calls from employees of doctors asking, "What drugs does Mr. Jones take?" The requests are mostly from psychiatrists and pain management clinics and are about patients who take lots of control drugs. Does it violate patient confidentiality if I verbally or in writing give out this information?

A: Until the federal law known as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) comes into operation on April 14, 2003, which will set a national standard, the law of confidentiality as it applies to pharmacy is dictated by state law. Each state has its own rules, and pharmacists need to know and follow their state laws. There are, however, some general principles of pharmacy confidentiality that apply in the situation you outline in your question.

Under most circumstances, pharmacists and pharmacies have a legal and ethical obligation to safeguard patients' medical information received by them in the course of their practice. Almost every state has a board of pharmacy regulation directing that pharmacists shall maintain the confidentiality of their patients. Pharmacy and medical information is generally considered private. Unauthorized release of such information is, in most states, cause for a civil suit and for disciplinary action by the pharmacy board. A patient's information may be released, in most cases, only when the patient has given specific permission. Some states, but not all, require such a release to be in writing.

There are, however, generally recognized exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are found either in the law or in the circumstances. While a release, either oral or written, may be required, there are times when a release can be presumed to have been given.

Take an extreme example: An emergency room physician calls and explains that one of your patients has had an allergic reaction and asks whether your records show any allergies for this patient. The patient is not in a condition where he can give permission for you to release this information to the ER physician. What do you do?

You give the information. …

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