In a study of unintended consequences, the Milwaukee Sentinel has a story on how HIPAA has chilled the release of once common information.

A porch collapses in Chicago. Victims are rushed to the hospital by
ambulance. Friends, relatives, neighbors, citizens want to know: Who's
injured? How badly?

But the hospitals, "they weren't releasing diddly," said Charles
Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information

The reason: the HIPAA privacy law.

The same veil of silence shrouds a nightclub fire and an Amtrak derailment. Same explanation: HIPAA.

A woman with mental health problems checks herself out of a hospital
and disappears. Even her family can't find out what she was doing at
the hospital. Because they have not been authorized to receive the
information, they run into the same barrier as the reporters covering
the porch collapse, the fire and the train accident.


The West Allis Fire Department refuses to give even the time that a fire call came in. You guessed it: HIPAA.

Much of the above seems silly, and not wholly consistent with the letter or intent of the law.

Barbara Shore, a Brookfield woman who worked as a medical
underwriter for an insurance company for 32 years, said she heard from
patients frustrated with consequences of the new push for privacy.

"It delayed getting records," Shore said. "It delayed getting
insurance paid . . . We got pressure on the phone all day and were
constantly fighting with agents and clients."

Shore, who retired from underwriting in 2005, made sure her family
was well prepared to deal with the privacy laws when it came to their
health problems. She had her parents sign HIPAA authorization forms
allowing their doctors to share information with her, and she keeps
copies in case she needs to fax them to a hospital.

What a mess. Check out the Health Privacy Project web site, there's lots of interesting info there, including a nice section on Myth and Facts About HIPAA.