Handling HIPAA Rules In Sports: Why Athlete Privacy Matters

April 18, 2016
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HIPAA breaches are all too common, and the number of reported cases has grown significantly over the last decade. Most often associated with medical professionals and healthcare centers, these breaches can lead to serious legal issues, including medical negligence claims and professionals losing their licenses. However, it’s not only relegated to these areas. It can also play a role in sports when the media gets ahold of a major injury.

Athletes Have HIPAA Rights Too

HIPAA breaches are all too common, and the number of reported cases has grown significantly over the last decade. Most often associated with medical professionals and healthcare centers, these breaches can lead to serious legal issues, including medical negligence claims and professionals losing their licenses. However, it’s not only relegated to these areas. It can also play a role in sports when the media gets ahold of a major injury.

Athletes Have HIPAA Rights Too

When a major athlete gets hurt, it’s not uncommon for the media to know every detail of their prognosis and treatment. What’s less clear, however, is how much permission these athletes have given regarding the release of this information. Athletes don’t simply check their HIPAA rights at the locker room door, after all.

HIPAA regulations should come into play when athletes undergo any kind of medical procedure, whether it’s a surgery or physical therapy. If a tennis player chooses to disclose the fact that she’s using rebounder nets as a part of her physical therapy, that’s her prerogative, but others don’t have the right to release the information for her, even if she’s famous.

Sports HIPAA Breach 

There have actually been several cases in which the medical records of major athletes have been shared via public means, and violated the patient’s rights. Most recently, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter tweeted the medical record of Jason Andrew Pierre-Paul, exposing private information that subjected the reporter to a lawsuit and ended in the firing of two hospital employees who leaked the records.

After Pierre-Paul lost his finger and other parts of his right hand in a firework accident during his Independence Day celebration last year, he was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital for treatment. It wasn’t long before the press had a hold of his medical information and published it.

In the legal aftermath that followed, Jackson Memorial Hospital portrayed a good example of how to handle the situation. They quickly published the following statement:

“During the investigation of a breach that occurred in July 2015, Jackson Health System became a party to related litigation. It is our policy that we do not comment during pending litigation. That litigation has now been settled. As part of our investigation into the breach, it was discovered that two employees inappropriately accessed the patient’s health record. That finding resulted in the termination of both employees. Protecting the privacy of our patients is a top priority at Jackson Health System. Any time we have allegations of a breach, we immediately and thoroughly investigate.”

Policies Protect Athlete Rights

There have been discussions in the past about whether or not public figures’ health records should be made public; but in 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reinforced the policy.  “No class of individuals should be singled out for reduced privacy,” the statement said.

There’ll always be certain privacy mandates that’ll need to be carried out according to HIPAA regulations to ensure the privacy and safety of all parties. As medical professionals, it’s a responsibility and privilege to follow these regulations for the security and safety of everyone involved.  

Even professional athletes and other related figures must authorize any publication or use of their medical records. It’s important that all healthcare representatives follow this rule without exception.