Health Law Expert on what You Can Do if Your Loved One is a
Hospitalized Disaster Victim
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–In the wake of the Orlando shooting, families waited for up to a day,
not knowing whether their loved ones were alive or dead. Some –
including the Mayor of Orlando — blamed the draconian healthcare
privacy law called HIPAA for the families’ hours of agony.
But HIPAA actually allows the release of limited information in such
situations, according to Ann Bittinger, a Florida healthcare attorney
who specializes in HIPAA. Regardless, says Bittinger, individuals can
take steps now to be able to identify loved ones in the event that a
terrorist attack, national emergency, or individual health condition
puts them in a hospital unconscious.
Buddy Dyer, Mayor of Orlando, was quoted by an Orlando news station of
saying he reached out to the White House to “see if we could get the
HIPAA regulations waived.” In declaring Orlando a national emergency
area, President Obama issued a Section 1135 waiver of HIPAA.
But that waiver wasn’t necessary said Bittinger, who was certified by
The Florida Bar as an expert in health law.
“Hospitals don’t need to ask the president if they can release
incapacitated disaster victims’ identities to family members, relatives,
or friends,” said Bittinger. “HIPAA allows hospitals to release
information on incapacitated individuals’ location, general condition or
That information can be released to friends and family members and
anyone whom the provider, in his or her reasonable judgment, thinks that
the patient would want involved in his care.
“Professional judgment trumps HIPAA’s prohibition for incapacitated
patients,” Bittinger said. “Hospitals should know this and be ready to
act in the event of any disaster,” Bittinger said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer claimed that a hospital CEO said HIPAA
prevented the hospital from identifying the Pulse nightclub victims who
were at the hospital. The Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act of 1996 prohibits covered entities like Orlando
Regional Medical Center from, in most situations, releasing the
identities of patients. HIPAA has a multitude of exceptions, however,
which keep HIPAA attorneys busy.
Healthcare providers can use common sense, Bittinger said.
“The federal government is not going to fine an emergency room doctor or
hospital for a HIPAA violation when a distraught person who is clearly
the parent or partner of the patient goes to the ER asking for
information,” Bittinger said.
Putting loved ones in touch with those hospitalized not only facilitates
care, such as by identifying blood type or other medically-relevant
information, but it also allows for religious care, such as last rites
for a Catholic patient, Bittinger said.
What can you do now to help you find your loved ones in the case of an
emergency? Bittinger says to make sure that items in your pocket or
purse – especially your cell phone – help people to find your emergency
“When you press the button on my iPhone and tell Siri to ‘Call In Case
of Emergency,’ that will trigger a call to my daughter,” said Bittinger.
“Everyone should have an ‘In Case of Emergency’ contact within their
contacts on their phones so it’s easy for a healthcare provider to reach
out.” This helps in single health emergencies too, like a car accident
or suddenly becoming unconscious.
“Older Americans and tweens with phones should definitely have a
responsible adult’s number on their phone as the ‘In Case of Emergency,’
or ‘ICE,’” Bittinger said. “In an emergency, apply ‘ICE.’”
Have emergency contact information in your wallet, Bittinger advised,
and tell your loved ones it is in there. That way when you go to the
hospital, you can show your driver’s license to the nurse and ask him or
her to check the patient’s wallet for your contact information.
About Ann Bittinger: Ms. Bittinger is a
healthcare attorney, providing strategic advice to healthcare providers
across the nation. She offices in Jacksonville, Florida, with The
Bittinger Law Firm. Ms. Bittinger is on the Board of Directors of
the American Health Lawyers Association, the premier trade association
for healthcare attorneys. She is a frequent lecturer and writer
for national seminars and publications on health law issues. Her
scholarly work was cited by The Florida Court of Appeals as authority in
a May 2016 decision.
The Bittinger Law Firm
Ann Bittinger, Esq., 904-821-9000, Cell: