their legal action against the hospital. However, incident reports can lose their protected status if they are misused or mishandled. It is important, therefore, that you treat these reports like other confidential documents. You must strictly limit the number of copies made and the distribution of the reports. Do not include the report in the patients treatment record. The report should be limited to the facts and must not contain conclusions. And finally, the report should be addressed and forwarded directly to the quality assurance coordinator of the hospital.
Two federal statutes, the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), combine to establish the criteria for collecting, maintaining, and releasing medical treatment records.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT The Freedom of Information Act governs the disclosure of documents compiled and maintained by government agencies. A written request for Department of the Navy records that explicitly or implicitly refers to FOIA must be responded to in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The Department of the Navy will make available to any person all documents, not otherwise exempt, provided the requester reasonably describes the records sought and promises to pay for reasonable search and photocopy costs. Each naval activity is responsible for developing procedures for ensuring the prompt handling; retrieval, and review of requested records. The official having responsibility for the records has 10 working days to respond to the requester.
A naval record will be withheld only when it is exempt from disclosure under FOIA. One basis for exempting a record from disclosure applies to personnel, medical, and similar files, the release of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. This concern over clearly unwarranted privacy intrusion is reflected in the provisions of the Privacy Act.
The publics concern over the inner workings and functioning of the government was the impetus that gave rise to the FOIA. However, it became obvious that a balance had to be made between the publics right to know and other significant rights and interests. One of these competing interests was protection of an individuals personal right to privacy. In response to this need, the Privacy Act of 1974 was enacted. The stated purpose of the Act is to establish safeguards concerning the right to privacy by regulating the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personal information by federal agencies.
The Privacy Act requires federal agencies to:
1. Permit an individual to know what records pertaining to him or her are collected, maintained, used, or disseminated by the agency
2. Permit an individual to prevent records pertaining to him or her obtained by the agency for a particular purpose from being used or made available for another purpose without his or her consent
3. Permit an individual to gain access to information pertaining to him or her in federal agency records, to have a copy made for all or any portion thereof, and to correct or amend such records
4. Collect, maintain, use, or disseminate any record of identifiable personal information in a manner that ensures that such action is for a necessary and lawful purpose, that the information is current and accurate, and that adequate safeguards are provided to prevent misuse of such information
5. Permit exemptions from the requirements of the Act only in those cases where there is specific statutory authority to do so
6. Be subject to civil suit for any damages that occur as a result of willful or intentional violation of any individuals rights under the Act.
In addition, any officer or employee of an agency who willfully violates certain provisions of the Act is subject to criminal prosecution, with penalties ranging to a fine of ,000.
Under the Acts provisions concerning disclosure of information, there are several circumstances under which naval treatment records and their contents can be disclosed. Included are disclosures to employees of the Department of the Navy who have a need to know the information. Also included are disclosures to a person under compelling circumstances affecting health or safety, pursuant to a court order, and to another government agency for civil or criminal law enforcement activities. Circumstances under which the release of medical