Every Saturday night, staffers at hospitals around the country have come to expect what will be an onslaught of violent injuries: broken jaws and noses, fractured hands and stabbing and gunshot wounds.
For a long time, hospitals' responses to these cases have been reactionary: Simply treat the patients as they come and move on to the next. Rarely, staffers say, were bar patrons or others reporting any of these incidents to police.
However, our Alabama criminal defense attorneys know that when one location in Britain decided to alter their approach, they were able to reduce the number of patients, as well as those arrested.
By sharing information with police regarding known trouble spots, as well as individuals suspected to be regularly involved in such altercations, the hospital reportedly “radically reduced” the toll of violence.
The approach was studied by professors at Cardiff University, the findings recently published in the September 2013 issue of the journal Injury Prevention. As such, we expect to see similar models and partnerships established between health care professionals and law enforcement agencies.
In some ways, we can see the clear benefits of such an approach. For example, the hospital identified a major problem as being the number of individuals who were being injured by broken bottles or glasses, law enforcement officials requested those establishments switch to plastic cups. In short order, the number of glass bottle laceration injuries was slashed by 70 percent. Overall hospital admissions fell by about 42 percent. The number of individuals who faced criminal charges for those crimes also dropped substantially.
However, from a criminal defense attorney standpoint, the approach is still more than little troubling.
First of all, when people arrive at a hospital for emergency treatment, they have a right to receive care without fear that honesty with their health care provider is going to be result in information being handed over to law enforcement officials. It's a violation of privacy. Individuals should be able to decide whether to report a crime.
Secondly, there is no guarantee that what a person says in the midst of a medical crisis is going to be reliable for the purposes of court.
Yet given the reduction in the number of hospital admissions, a number of cities in England began adopting similar procedures. Now, almost a third of all emergency room departments participate in some type of information-sharing program with local police. That figure is growing, and there is a possibility that similar models could be adopted here in the U.S.
In the past, medical privacy laws, and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in particular, have served as an effective block to that kind of partnership. However, HIPAA does allow covered entities to disclose protected health information in response to a law enforcement official's request for the purposes of identifying or locating a suspect, fugitive, material witness or missing person. Under this provision, police are able to access medical information without a warrant. They may also do so if there is a medical emergency that has occurred in connection with a suspected crime.
The bottom line is that you must be careful with whom you share information in the event you are treated in a health care facility for injuries you received in connection with a crime you may have committed. It's quite possible that information could end up potentially being used against you in court.
If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
A Hospital Tells Police Where Fights Happen, And Crime Drops, Sept. 19, 2013, By Nancy Shute, NPR