N.H. hospital resists turning over patient records in Hep C case

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In response to a hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital in Exeter, N.H., resulting from alleged criminal behavior of a hospital employee, the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) has requested broad access to the provider's medical record systems as part of its investigation. However, the hospital is hesitating to allow this access due to patient privacy laws.

While Exeter Hospital said it continues to support the state’s efforts to identify all victims of David Kwiatkowski’s alleged criminal activity, the provider added that these "records contain confidential and private health information on all of our patients and access to this information is restricted by both state and federal law. The DPHS’ current request extends beyond what we believe we are allowed to provide in accordance with patient privacy laws."

The hospital noted that it "must act with extreme caution in granting access to private medical records without an individual’s advance consent," adding that it understands the DPHS may need to gather specific information from a small subset of those records to help with its investigation.

"We hope to find a way to provide the DPHS’ investigators with limited access to those records to provide them with what they need without violating our patients’ legal rights," the hospital said in a release.

In the meantime, Exeter Hospital has filed an action seeking judicial guidance in N.H. Superior Court in Merrimack County, noting its "intent is to obtain judicial guidance for both the DPHS and Exeter Hospital in this challenging intersection between individual privacy and the DPHS’ desire to examine confidential patient medical records."

The provider said it "hope[s] for an expedited hearing and ruling. In the meantime, we continue to work with the DPHS on other aspects of its investigation, including its recent recommendation for Exeter Hospital to support significantly reduced voluntary hepatitis C testing for a very limited number of Exeter Hospital employees and medical staff members. The DPHS will be processing all samples collected during this process and has committed to maintaining the confidentiality of the results. Exeter Hospital will only be notified of a result if a sample matches the existing hepatitis C outbreak."

To date, no additional linked cases have been identified since the DPHS initiated expanded testing. The total number of cases linked to Kwiatkowski’s alleged criminal activities remains at 32.