Reporting suspicious injuries

April 23, 2004

I recently treated a patient for what appeared to be a minor gunshot wound. Although the patient claimed the injury was caused by something else, could I have reported my suspicions to the police without violating my patient's privacy rights?

Q:I recently treated a patient for what appeared to be a minor gunshot wound. Although the patient claimed the injury was caused by something else, could I have reported my suspicions to the police without violating my patient's privacy rights?

A: Yes, if your state requires such disclosures. In fact, many states do require doctors and hospitals to alert the police to injuries that may have been inflicted during the course of a crime—injuries like gunshot wounds or burns over a certain percentage of the body. In such cases, HIPAA permits healthcare providers to make such disclosures. To determine what your obligations are under state law, consult your medical society or hospital legal department.