Medical records can contain some of the most intimate details about our lives – things even some of our loved ones may not know. They also can be essential to building your legal case. Let’s say, for instance, you were hurt by a medical device, your law firm will need your medical records as evidence that you actually had the device in question and that your symptoms have been documented. Or, in a sexual abuse case, your doctors’ records can help demonstrate the physical and mental toll the abuse has taken on you and strengthen your case. Even if the medical records show something that might be unfavorable to your case, it is good for your lawyers to have that information, so they know how to handle it if it comes up during the pendency of your case.
So, how is your privacy protected when you take legal action?
Laws Protecting Your Privacy
If this makes you uneasy, fortunately your privacy is protected by law. One such law is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Signed back in 1996, HIPAA was mainly created to modernize the way healthcare information is shared, regulate how the health industry can use this information, protect folks from fraud and theft, and reform some aspects of healthcare.
Under HIPAA, you have the right to get a copy of your medical records, to make sure the records are correct, and to regulate who can see them. In order for your law firm to access your records to use as evidence in your case, you’ll need to sign a HIPAA authorization form. This is usually part of your initial agreement with the firm and allows your law firms to order your medical records in accordance with the law. For more on your HIPAA rights, check out this resource from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
How Will This Affect Your Doctors?
Aside from issues about privacy, we often hear concerns about having records pulled for legal purposes. People worry that it will negatively impact their doctors. In a case against a manufacture of device or medication, you are NOT bringing a case against your doctor, so ordering these records won’t hurt him or her. Even more importantly, the doctor will know only the manufacturer is being sued. The pharmaceutical issues we are working on are known throughout the medical community and doctors fully understand that the cases are aimed against companies or manufacturers and not doctors. In fact, the doctors were as much in the dark as you were when they prescribed the medication or used the device—they too were told that the products were safe. Doctors didn’t commit malpractice, rather they used what they were told were safe and effective products. They were trying to help their patients, not harm them. These cases are not occurring because doctors committed medical malpractice; these cases exist because of a manufacturer’s misconduct. The medical community completely understands this fact.
What Other Protections Exist?
We know how hard it can be to share such sensitive information, but remember, aside from HIPAA protections, the information you share with your attorney is protected by attorney-client privilege. Any information you share with them, will be protected unless it is public information. When you work with them, tell them if there are records you aren’t comfortable sharing. They will work with you to further protect your privacy as best they can.