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College coaches hiding behind HIPAA

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by big green wahoo, Nov 30, 2009.

  1. I looked in the archives for info on college coaches hiding behind HIPAA when it comes to injuries, but I didn't see anything specific. Sorry if I overlooked something and I'm beating a dead horse.

    I guess coaches can decline to discuss player injuries if they want to and there's nothing you can do about it. But when makes my molars grind is when they tell me they're prohibited because of HIPAA. I'd be willing to bet most of them don't even know what HIPAA is exactly. Heck, I don't know exactly.

    At the school I cover, I just came off a fall season in which the coaches pretty much told me whatever I wanted to know about injuries. Now, I get to the winter sports and a coach tells me he'd love to clue me in on why his stud defenseman is hurt but ``it's an NCAA rule'' that he abide by HIPAA and not discuss the kid's ailment.

    Has anyone on a college beat heard this excuse and done the research to challenge it? I thought I'd ask before I started digging around.
  2. UPChip

    UPChip Well-Known Member

    I'd also like to hear more. The D-2 university in our coverage has made non-disclosure of injury information due to HIPAA a departmental policy.
  3. I'm tempted to tell this coach that all the fall sport coaches speak freely, but I fear that would prompt such a departmental policy.
  4. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    HIPAA doesn't apply to coaches, only to health-care providers. It's just used as an excuse.
  5. Steak Snabler

    Steak Snabler Well-Known Member

    This first became an issue about 7-8 years ago at major schools, but turns out it was a misapplication of the rule/law. HIPAA does not forbid a coach from disclosing injury information, but it does forbid him from disclosing that a player is seeing a psychiatrist, for example, or getting too specific about chronic, non-football-related medical problems or whatever.

    Any coach that says, for example, "We can't talk about Johnny Quarterback's knee injury because it's against the law" is full of shit.
  6. I figured that was the case. Now I need to go find out proof/evidence so I can give an educated response next time I'm denied comment on the basis of HIPAA.
  7. UPChip

    UPChip Well-Known Member

    To be fair, I believe the university also cites FERPA (relating to student records). Like Stitch said, it's probably crap, but I'd love to have a hard resource to point to in proving it. I know before I got here, the women's basketball team's starting point guard went down in preseason practice and was out for the season and all they would admit was that she'd had an injury.
  8. This seems to be a very simple definition. I guess colleges and universities argue that they are the health care provider for their athletes.

    ``The Privacy Rule, as well as all the Administrative Simplification rules, apply to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and to any health care provider who transmits health information in electronic form...''
  9. GlenQuagmire

    GlenQuagmire Active Member

    It's a joke that schools hide behind HIPAA. The original purpose of HIPAA was to minimize the amount of paperwork!
  10. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    And they'd be wrong there, too. FERPA only applies to educational records, and health care records are specifically excluded from "educational" records.

    From U of Texas's site about FERPA:


    And yes, as Stitch said, HIPAA only applies to health care providers. Coaches in the athletic department may claim to be covered by HIPAA, but I believe -- correct me if I'm wrong, somebody -- that would only apply to trainers or physicians. I was under the impression that not every school employee would be able to use HIPAA as a privacy shield, even if the school itself is covered.

    Here's something from U of North Carolina's site on HIPAA:


  11. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Let me amend my previous post (with the help of my legal-genius wife, who would have posted this herself if she wasn't so rudely driven off this site last month ::)):

    College coaches can be legitimately covered under HIPAA from discussing their players' individual health situations. For instance, under the law, a coach is not allowed to say anything about Johnny Quarterback's leg injury, but if he says "three-quarters of my team came down with the flu," that's not in violation of HIPAA. (And part of the problem is that the coach may not be able to legally obtain the information in the first place -- because the burden lies with the team physician. The team physician can't disclose any medical information to the athletic trainer or the coach without consent, per HIPAA.)

    However ...

    It seems that common policy for many schools is to ask their student-athletes to "opt-in" to the release of their medical information via disclosure forms. Here's an example of what the University of Georgia uses: http://at.uwa.edu/admin/UGA/hipaa.doc. You can Google "student-athlete authorization" and find many other schools using similar forms.

    If the athletes have signed those releases, then those coaches are allowed to disclose medical information to the media. The law is very clear that medical information can only be released to the SID staff or the media is with the student's authorization. (The case, if you're interested, can be found by searching for Magee, Almekinders, & Taft, 2003.)

    Here's a very helpful article that should answer many of your questions: http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/impact-hipaa-privacy-rule-collegiate-sport-professionals

    So, wahoo, you need to go to your AD and ask if they keep those disclosure forms on file. If they don't, you're SOL on injury news because the coaches are shielded under HIPAA. It's also entirely possible that a coach doesn't know his school's policy on the matter, because different schools might have different policies.

    But you should do some research before you bitch about what your coaches do or don't know, because you could be entirely wrong here.
  12. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Also, it's a different situation dealing with high school/underage athletes, because then you're dealing with coaches in in loco parentis situations. They would have the right to deny you information. Plus, it may be rare that there is a team physician treating the players.

    HIPAA and FERPA don't necessarily cancel each other out, or conflict, in public K-12 schools, but I would tread extremely carefully.
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