Reply To: His new victim has just contacted me via Facebook



cloud79, regarding disclosure of health care information to third parties, here in the United States we have a law called HIPAA, as Stargazer mentioned, which stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” and protects the privacy of an individual’s health care information. (In the past I’ve seen lots of people spell it “HIPPA” because they’ve got a hippopotamus in mind (“Mud, glorious mud?”), but Stargazer and resilient85 are to be congratulated for spelling it right!) As resilient85 said, the law does not prohibit only doctors from disclosing a patient’s health information to unauthorized persons. However, to my understanding its scope is still limited to what are called “covered entities,” that’s to say, organizations having a formal business relationship with the patient, which includes insurers, employers and the like. So for instance a secretary working for a health insurer who has access to a patient’s private health information is prohibited from disclosing it to outsiders, though it can be shared among authorized entities for certain permitted legitimate purposes, an obvious example being between an insurer and a doctor or hospital.

However, if Tom runs into Dick in the street and tells Dick he’s got a bad cold–or even lung cancer for that matter–there’s nothing whatsoever to stop Dick from telling their friend Harry about Tom’s health woes the next time they meet. I don’t see how a law can prevent ordinary news that a private individual has acquired in the usual informal ways from being shared with a third party. That would be ridiculous! If Aggie ran into Bertha at the laundromat (sorry, “launderette” to you) and noticed that Bertha had grown a wart on her nose, I can’t imagine Aggie being prosecuted for telling her friend Carrie that Bertha was now suffering from warts! I don’t see how your own situation is any different in principle.

I realize you’re in England and don’t have the same health care system or the same laws, though I hope you have something similar to protect people’s privacy when it comes to information that a doctor or hospital is privy to. But if you do wish to pass on to this woman whatever you know, or have reasonable cause to suspect, about this guy being infected–that decision is entirely up to you, of course–I can’t imagine any legal barrier standing in your way. Especially if you’re in the UK and he’s here in the U.S. He’d have a hard time taking any action against you!

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