Judge orders disclosure of immigrant medical records in criminal case

As medical professionals, many FierceHealthcare readers struggle hard to make sure the privacy of medical records are protected. However, providers can be forced to share medical records if a judge orders them to be disclosed. That's what happened recently in North Carolina, where a judge ordered a public health provider to turn over a patient's medical records in a criminal proceeding against library worker Marxavi Angel Martinez.

Martinez, who was brought to North Carolina by her parents as a toddler, faces federal felony charges for using the Social Security number of a dead person. As part of a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry, a judge required Alamance County Health Director Barry Bass to turn over medical records on five patients, including those of Martinez. Legal observers in the community say they're aware of civil matters in which the court has ordered medical record disclosure, but believe that demanding them in a criminal investigation is a first.

Public health departments, meanwhile, argue that this case has set a precedent that could scare illegal immigrants away. If this happens, officials say, infectious diseases could rise dramatically among this population, infant mortality could shoot up, and emergency costs could rise. Early intervention in public health settings is the key to controlling these public health threats, they say.

To learn more about this decision:
- read this News & Observer report

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