Many lawmakers and privacy advocates are calling out ESPN for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. So, what did ESPN do to attract this unwanted attention?
It all stems from a finger injury sustained by New York Giants' pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who was recently forced to have his right index finger amputated. This injury was caused by fireworks, reported ESPN. On Wednesday night, soon after the NFL pro received treatment for the injury, a reporter for ESPN tweeted medical records of Pierre-Paul along with the following message “ESPN obtained medical charts that show Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul had right index finger amputated today.”
You don't have to be a HIPAA expert to realize this is a direct violation of Pierre-Paul's privacy rights, assuming he did not authorize ESPN to publish the records (which he most certainly did not). This spurred an instant backlash on social media, with many coming to the defense of Pierre-Paul saying ESPN's actions were not only wrong but also illegal under HIPAA.
In response to the criticism is received, Sports Illustrated report Michael McCann tweeted a message in which he said that ESPN did not violate HIPAA. According to McCann, HIPAA laws don't apply to media who obtain medical records of others. This means ESPN could be off the hook, but the doctor, nurse or hospital worker who gave ESPN Pierre-Paul's records might face a hefty fine or even criminal charges.
“The player has undergone numerous surgeries and is expected to remain hospitalized for two or three more days, the source said,” wrote ESPN in its article about the injury. “Pierre-Paul suffered injuries to both of his hands in an accident involving fireworks last weekend in South Florida, sources told ESPN on Sunday.”
According to Forbes, Pierre-Paul could sue the hospital at which he received treatment for the finger injury through a HIPAA negligence claim. There's no word yet, however, whether or not he will proceed with a lawsuit. If he goes, Pierre-Paul could argue that the unauthorized release of his medical records hurt his career, at which point he could ask for a pretty substantial sum of money considering his current stance in the National Football League.
In any case, this story just goes to show the importance of keeping patient records safe and secure.