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    Herald-Tribune: Sheriff wants doctors to have patients sign away rights

    The Herald-Tribune reports on actions in Florida that is raising concerns about how it affects the privacy rights of patients in their medical data:

    Administrators with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, which is fighting a prescription drug epidemic that led to 113 overdose deaths in Sarasota and Manatee counties during 2010, thought they had found an easy way to learn more about medical patients who might be breaking the law to get pills.

    Their solution? Provide doctors with a form patients could sign that would waive their privacy rights and allow detectives to examine an individual’s records without getting permission from a judge, an approach that other jurisdictions in Florida are now considering.

    The medical information waivers — which did not carry any indication that they were written by a law enforcement agency — were handed out last year to about 30 local pain doctors, who were asked to have patients sign them. But the measure never gained traction with doctors, and, so far, none has submitted a form signed by a patient.

    Moreover, the move has drawn sharp criticism from some in the Sarasota County medical community and from defense lawyers who call it a sly way to violate a patient’s constitutional privacy rights and protections under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the so-called HIPPA law.

    Normally, police would have to apply for a search warrant or obtain a subpoena for the records, said Assistant Public Defender Mark Adams. […]

    But Dr. William Cole, of Sarasota’s Orthomed Pain and Sports Medicine clinic, says he already is in “survival mode” because of strict regulations imposed by the county and the sheriff’s office that hamper filling legitimate pain pill prescriptions. Cole, who said he has refused to ask any patients to sign the form, questioned the sheriff’s office use of “voluntary” to describe the waivers.

    “They have to protect themselves from undue scrutiny,” Cole said. “My patients are sick, generally with multiple disorders. Would you ask a cancer patient to sign the form? It’s not acceptable.”

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