The Prairie Fields case dealt with the issue of whether a patient could sue a medical provider for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress for the alleged unauthorized disclosure of that patient’s testing positive for HIV.
In a ruling that should concern any health care provider, the Nebraska Supreme Court allowed the patient’s lawsuit to continue.
The patient offered the following evidence:
– that an ex-boyfriend contacted her the day after she had learned about the positive results;
– the ex learned about the test result from one of his friends;
– the ex’s friend admitted that he called the patient’s ex; and
– this same friend testified that he overheard a rumor to this effect from strangers while at a bar, but did not remember what day he purportedly heard this rumor in a bar.
The Nebraska Supreme Court held that if a jury believed the patient’s testimony, then the ex’s friend heard a rumor about the patient contracting HIV less than 24 hours after the patient learned the test results herself and despite her testimony that she did not disclose the information to anyone else.
Additionally, the health care provider did not present evidence to refute the patient’s testimony that no one at the diagnostic laboratory or insurance company would have known about her test results.
So, REO Speedwagon may have had it right. But on a serious note, this case underscores just how serious is HIPAA compliance.