CHA News Article

Police Use of Body Cameras Could Have Privacy Implications for Hospitals

As police forces increasingly use body cameras to film potentially problematic encounters with the public, the California Legislature has worked in the past year to establish standards for law enforcement body camera policies. Because police officers may be wearing body cameras – small devices, worn like a police radio on an officer’s shirtfront – in hospitals or health care facilities, their use raises questions about patient privacy.

Law enforcement officers are not covered entities under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and they are not subject to the state privacy laws found in the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act or the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. Under HIPAA, hospitals do have an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent unauthorized disclosure of protected health information, including patient identities. CHA is tracking all pending legislation related to body cameras and ensuring hospitals’ interests are protected, and will keep members informed of legal and policy developments on this issue.

In addition, the American Hospital Association (AHA) has approached the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights to request that it issue guidance about HIPAA and police body cameras. AHA also is working with the National Association of Police Organizations to develop joint guidance and information.

Hospital policies regarding photography and filming in the facility should address filming by law enforcement personnel. Hospitals should take steps to communicate and enforce the policy as appropriate. Hospitals may wish to meet with local law enforcement agencies to inform them of patient privacy laws and communicate their policies, and should remind officers of the policy when they are in the facility. However, it is unlikely that a hospital would be held legally liable for an officer’s refusal to comply with a hospital’s request to turn off the camera inside the facility. Hospitals that are under common ownership with a law enforcement agency (such as counties and the University of California) and hospitals that contract with law enforcement or private security are advised to address the issue of body cameras with them.