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Minnesota Supreme Court rules healthcare data can be used in fundraising

Minnesota Supreme Court rules healthcare data can be used in fundraising

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that healthcare entities can utilize patient data for fundraising without explicit consent, citing an exemption under HIPAA, which allows such use. This decision comes despite the Minnesota Health Records Act (MHRA), which typically restricts health information disclosures without a "specific authorization in law."

The case was brought to court by parents Kelly and Evarist Schneider, who sued Minnesota's Children's Hospital and Clinics after discovering a data breach that exposed their child's name, age, date of birth, and treatment details.


Why it matters

The ruling raises ethical concerns about patient privacy and the potential misuse of sensitive information, while providing healthcare entities with a streamlined approach to fundraising. The ability to utilize patient data without consent could potentially enhance fundraising efforts, providing additional financial support for healthcare operations and initiatives.


The big picture

The ruling navigates the complex intersection between state and federal laws, with the HIPAA exemption for fundraising without consent being recognized as a "specific authorization in law" under the MHRA, effectively allowing the federal regulation to preempt state law in this instance.

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What they're saying

Representing the parents, A.L. Brown highlighted the simplicity of obtaining consent: "If Children's wanted to do exactly what it did, all it had to do was ask."

Children's Hospital, in a statement, emphasized its commitment to patient privacy: "Children's Minnesota is deeply committed to protecting patient privacy... [and] will continue to comply with all privacy laws and regulations."


Legal and ethical implications 

The decision could potentially lead to increased scrutiny and calls for legislative changes due to the ethical concerns it raises about patient privacy and consent. The potential misuse of sensitive patient data and the ethical considerations of using such data without consent might prompt discussions about tightening regulations and ensuring more robust data protection.


Go deeper

David Carney argued that the MHRA wasn't more specific than HIPAA regarding fundraising, thus not fitting the reverse-preemption mold. 

Chief Justice Natalie Hudson clarified that the HIPAA privacy rule, being a federal regulation, is a 'specific authorization in law.' Here, "preemption" refers to the ability of federal law to override state law when conflicts occur, while "reverse preemption" refers to instances where state law can override federal law under specific conditions. 

The court found that the HIPAA exemption for fundraising preempted the MHRA due to its specific authorization in law.


Be smart

Patients and healthcare consumers should actively engage with healthcare providers, understand their data use policies, and remain vigilant about their data privacy. This involves being informed about their rights, how their data is used, and staying abreast of evolving legal scenarios that might impact data usage.


Ethical considerations

The American Medical Association's Code of Ethics states, "Obtain permission from the patient before releasing information for purposes of fundraising when the nature of the physician's practice could make it possible to identify the medical services provided or the patient's diagnosis." This case would appear to adhere to the letter of the law while perhaps sidestepping ethical considerations. 


In a nutshell

The Minnesota Supreme Court's decision marks a significant moment, allowing healthcare entities to use patient data for fundraising without consent, citing a HIPAA exemption. This could potentially reshape healthcare fundraising practices and data management, influencing future legal and ethical standards, and sparking discussions and debates about patient privacy, consent, and data use in the healthcare sector.

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