Police access to information
My hospital has developed a new procedure that allows police to complete a form to request personal health information about clients who come to our emergency department. Can police access this information without a warrant or subpoena?
Yes, under certain circumstances the police can access this information.
The Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (PHIPA) permits hospitals to develop a procedure for releasing information to the police. By creating such a procedure, your hospital has formalized the process for giving information to the police during an investigation.
The responsibility for the decision to disclose information requested by police lies with the hospital. As an employee of the hospital, you are not breaching CNO practice standards if the hospital's procedure complies with PHIPA and you are asked by the facility to provide personal health information to police.
Your hospital's procedure for police accessing information should include criteria regarding the circumstances under which the information is provided. For example, the police need to demonstrate that the request is urgent. In addition, the hospital needs to appoint a decision-maker to handle urgent requests from police, and this person needs to be clearly identified in the policy.
The designated decision-maker does not need a client's consent to disclose health information to the police, but must ensure that the information that he or she supplies complies with PHIPA. Of course, this procedure is unnecessary if the police provide a warrant or subpoena.