Dr Phil, Britney Spears, Dr Drew, and Patient Privacy Law

Posted on Jan 9, 2008 in Celebrity Justice, National Issues

The story is still unfolding on Dr. Phil’s entry into the Britney Spears storyline, as TMZ is reporting today that Britney’s parents, Jamie and Lynn Spears, appeared via their family representative on NBC’s Today show to refute that anyone gave Dr. Phil the authority to say anything about Britney, and that they declined an invitation that Dr. Phil made to them for a segment on his show about Britney Spears.

Meanwhile, there are also reports that tests from Cedars-Sinai Hospital have been leaked to the press, showing that Britney tested clean for both alcohol and drugs during her recent forced stay at their facility.

So, what about PRIVACY laws here?  Even celebrities have civil rights.  What about patient privacy?

In April 2003, a federal law went into effect that protects patient privacy by setting standards for health care providers (read that hospitals and doctors and psychologists like Dr. Phil) on the releasing of personal health care information.  This law is a part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. 

The “privacy rule” under HIPAA protects any information about a patient’s health status, type of health care, and payment for health care services.  Medical records are protected.  In fact, facilities are not allowed to tell you whether or not an individual is even a patient at their facility unless you have specific authorization to have that info.

Violations of this privacy protection can result in complaints being filed with the Department of Health and Human Services.  Constitutional right to privacy concerns arguably overlap here, allowing a civil action for monetary damages to be filed as well. 

Britney Spears has a right to privacy concerning her medical records and her medical condition.  Her clean test results should not be known by the public unless she agreed to this; however, since it benefits her situation this probably isn’t an argument she’s going to press.

However, all this Dr. Phil stuff?  Privacy violation?  Sure looks like it – especially with the latest throwdown by her parents on the Today show.  Visiting her in the hospital is a problem, but his statement immediately afterwards, opining about the severity of her condition might breach HIPAA … giving this kind of statement to the press on hospital grounds immediately after seeing Britney seems like a violation of her privacy rights under HIPAA. 

Dr. Drew and his press statements that she may be the next Anna Nicole?  Not the same.   He hasn’t seen her, he’s not saying that he’s seen her.  Dr Drew is giving commentary — a position distinctly different from Dr. Phil and his personal visitation.�

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