Disclosing protected health information in court

December 1, 2006

Does HIPAA prevent me from discussing a patient's treatment during the course of a small-claims suit? I'd like to sue a patient who refuses to pay me, but other people will probably be present in the small-claims courtroom for their own cases.

Q: Does HIPAA prevent me from discussing a patient's treatment during the course of a small-claims suit? I'd like to sue a patient who refuses to pay me, but other people will probably be present in the small-claims courtroom for their own cases.

A: No, you can bring your case to small claims court, even though there will be other people there who might hear what goes on. Under HIPAA, a covered entity may use or disclose protected health information during a legal proceeding. That means you may divulge such information as a plaintiff in a suit to obtain payment.

However, HIPAA also requires that you make a reasonable effort to limit your disclosure to the minimum necessary to accomplish your purpose. So don't bring up any treatment details that don't directly relate to the issue of your getting paid.

It may be a good idea for you or your attorney to call the court clerk beforehand to advise him if your case involves a sensitive medical issue. It's possible the judge may agree to hear your case in the privacy of his chambers.

It's also important to have your attorney check the privacy requirements under state law, as well.