Michigan law trumps HIPAA in patient privacy case

Published: 2011-06-06 10:49:54
Author: ALICIA GALLEGOS

Legal experts say a Michigan court ruling over disclosing patient names places tighter restrictions on what information physicians can release during legal proceedings.
The decision also could impact peer review and lead to a rise in lawsuits against health care professionals over patient-privacy violations, they said.

The case stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by Howell, Mich.-based podiatrist Isidore Steiner, DPM, of Family Foot Center against podiatrist Marc Bonanni, DPM, alleging that Bonanni "stole" patients in violation of an employee agreement, court records show. His contract prohibited him from soliciting patients if he left the practice.

During discovery, the center requested that Bonanni disclose the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all patients treated at his new practice since he left the center. Bonanni objected, arguing that the disclosure was protected by state and federal patient privacy laws.

The center filed a motion asking the court to force Bonanni to produce the information. It said the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act should be applied to the case. HIPAA allows certain patient disclosures during legal proceedings.

But Bonanni argued that Michigan's patient privacy law, which prevents such disclosures, should be applied.

A trial court ruled in favor of Bonanni. Steiner appealed. The appellate court ruled that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the patient information because Michigan law preempts HIPAA. The court said HIPAA applies only if there is not a more stringent state law related to patient privacy.

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