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HIPAA and its implications for reporting

It’s been awhile since a big story has raised a spirited newsroom discussion about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and its impact on reporting medical related news involving public figures or publicly funded institutions. 

Recently, two national stories which have prompted some newsrooms to wonder what can and can’t be reported and what are the legal ramifications if a newsroom does report medical related information, however it obtained it.

Earlier this summer an ESPN reporter set off a debate by tweeting the medical chart of New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who had suffered a serious hand injury requiring amputation after a July 4th fireworks incident.

More recently, when the release of three undercover videos by a pro-life group seeking to “expose” the practices of abortion provider Planned Parenthood made news, concerns were raised about how the material was gathered as well as whether patients’ medical privacy was compromised in the third video released by the group involved. 

Some raised HIPAA concerns as well as the efficacy of publication of third-party material that may or may not have been obtained legally.  

In the latter, the Bartnicki v. Vopper U.S. Supreme Court decision provides direction as it speaks to the use of third-party material by newsrooms.  

Station newsrooms should always consult station legal counsel when such thorny issues arise. Two other resources also spring to mind to help stations.

TAB’s Newsroom Legal Guide, prepared by the media law attorneys at TAB’s state counsel Jackson Walker, LLP, has an entire chapter on HIPAA and healthcare-related considerations in news reporting.   It is a great overview on the topic. Newsrooms can download the guide from the Members section of

The Radio Television Digital News Association recently had an informative online article on the topic, Shooting from the HIPAA: Sources and Privacy, prepared by contributor Al Sunshine. Sunshine covers the journalistic, legal and ethical considerations newsrooms face when deciding whether to release medical information involved with a story. It’s a concise, quick read.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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