MetaMedia: HIPAA and the media

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Emergency medical service personnel with the San Antonio Fire Department can treat accident victims while media photograph them in public, a public information officer said Feb. 21.

“If someone outside takes a picture and releases it, that is not our liability. That’s someone else’s liability,” Deborah Foster, public information officer, said.

A district police officer told The Ranger Feb. 21 that the reason a photographer was told to move away from the scene of an accident in McCreless Hall was that fire department personnel would not treat the victim if she were being photographed.

Another campus police officer told The Ranger photographer to move and tried to block her camera.

That despite the fact she was about 15 feet away from the stairs where math Professor Paula McKenna fell.

Foster said the fire department can treat patients no matter what is going on around them.

The fire department is governed by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which prohibits medical personnel from releasing the personal health information of individuals without the patient’s consent.

“We can’t govern anybody outside taking pictures, like the media,” Foster said.

HIPAA does not restrict the right of journalists or others from taking photographs of an accident victim in a public place.

EMS was called after McKenna tripped on the stairs because she said the non-skid strips were too worn to be effective.

“I never saw the reporter, heard the camera or anything,” McKenna said Tuesday.

When a person is injured, the last thing they think about is the public, McKenna said.

McKenna worried more about whether she needed to go to the hospital or contact her family, she said.


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