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Healthcare Providers Reporting To Motor Vehicle Commission

June 27, 2012 | No Comments
Posted by Sharlene Hunt

A bill set for a vote tomorrow in both Houses of the New Jersey Legislature would permit certain healthcare providers to report to the Motor Vehicle Commission information regarding patients with an alleged impairment.  The information to be reported would include the name, age, address and description of the alleged impairment of any person sixteen years of age or older.  Impairments covered by the bill are defined as any health problems that, “in the healthcare provider’s judgment, will significantly affect the person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.”  Healthcare providers covered by the bill include physicians, podiatrists, dentists, optometrists, advanced practice nurses, and psychologists.

The bill is permissive, and does not require reporting to the Motor Vehicle Commission.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and regulations issued under HIPAA permit the release of protected health information if “required by law.”  The term “required by law” is defined in the HIPAA regulations as a mandate contained in a law that compels disclosure and is enforceable in a court.  The proposed bill does not rise to the level of a mandate, and thus this disclosure would not be permissible under HIPAA.  The bill therefore raises an interesting conundrum for healthcare providers who are bound by obligations of patient confidentiality.

One of the critical underlying reasons for laws protecting patient confidentiality is to encourage individuals to seek treatment without the fear of having their medical condition become public information.  If an optometrist determines that her patients’ cataracts could affect their ability to drive, will senior citizens cease to seek eye care in order to avoid reporting, thereby keeping their driving privileges but exacerbating their vision problems?  Will an individual with an inflammation in his knees avoid seeking treatment for fear that his physician could determine the problem could affect his ability to brake quickly in an emergency?  Since the bill is not mandatory, does the healthcare provider who reports one of these conditions expose herself to liability for breach of confidentiality?

The issue of individuals driving with medical conditions that create a safety risk is a serious one indeed.  Such a condition could put not only that individual at risk, but also the entire population traveling on the roads of New Jersey.  However, this bill has serious implications not only for patients who may become hesitant to seek care in order to retain their driving privileges, but also for healthcare providers who are now “permitted” to report such conditions, but who may nonetheless be violating patient confidentiality in doing so.  While a court might eventually find in favor of the healthcare provider based on public policy, the issue is certainly not addressed in the proposed bill.

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