COWC Files Federal Suit to Protect Patients Records
Planned Parenthood Affiliate Seeks to Defend Personal Privacy Against Outside Intrusion
COLUMBUS — Central Ohio Women's Center (COWC), an affiliate organization of Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio, today filed a suit in the United States District Court in Columbus, Ohio, to block the disclosure of 224 confidential patient records to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
COWC is licensed by ODH as an Ambulatory Surgical Facility. The suit was filed after ODH requested COWC's patients' records in response to an undisclosed complaint. ODH has declined to inform COWC about the nature or content of the complaint. COWC has no record of a recent patient complaint.
"We want to assist in the investigation of this complaint. However, we must also protect our patients' medical privacy. It is the bedrock of the doctor-patient relationship and of good medical care," said COWC Executive Director Lisa Perks. "COWC provides high quality reproductive health care, protects medical privacy and fully complies with Ohio laws."
Over the past several weeks, COWC has made several attempts to allow ODH to continue its investigation while safeguarding patients' privacy. COWC offered to contact patients for permission to release their records. It also offered to allow ODH to examine patient medical records from which identifying information had been removed.
"We have made several good-faith efforts to respond to this complaint while maintaining our patients' confidentiality — which is paramount. The breadth of this inquiry is stunning and out of step with current privacy practices. In fact, we believe that to disclose these records in their entirety would be in violation of HIPAA, recently enacted federal medical privacy laws," added Perks. "This request violates doctor-patient confidentiality, which is critically important. It opens the door to additional government intrusion into patients' private medical records at any health care facility licensed by the state of Ohio. It poses a threat to every resident of Ohio."
"This appears to be a fishing expedition into deeply personal and private medical health information involving hundreds of patients. Our patients deserve respect for their privacy," Perks said. "No one should have to face the daunting possibility of politicians and bureaucrats poring over the details of their confidential medical files. This request is a highly intrusive overreach into the most intimate details of people's lives. Individuals have the right to make personal, private decisions about their health care, free from government intrusion and inquiry."
Nationally, Planned Parenthood has fought and won similar medical privacy battles. In 2004, Planned Parenthood successfully blocked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's attempt to seize 900 confidential medical records from Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country. Two years ago, in Storm Lake, Iowa, Planned Parenthood defeated another attempt to allow government invasion of confidential medical records. Currently, cases are pending in Kansas — with a September court date — and in Indiana. Each case involves the confidentiality of about 30 Planned Parenthood patient records.
Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio, and its COWC affiliate, is the largest provider of preventive, reproductive health care for low- to moderate-income women and their families in Central Ohio and offers a full range of services.
COWC shares space with PPCO's East Center on East Main Street. It provides pregnancy tests, non-directive options information and referrals, and first trimester abortion services.
PPCO operates seven health care centers and provides community education programs in Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield, Licking, Madison, Marion, Pickaway and Union counties. Since its founding in 1932, PPCO has served more than one million people through its education programs and health care services. Details on its services and programs are at www.plannedparenthoodcentralohio.org.