A Florida state appellate court recently denied a motion to suppress from evidence patient records seized from a pharmacy without a search warrant or notice to the patients, finding no statutory or constitutional violation. The court reversed the trial court’s order suppressing the evidence, holding that a Florida statute requires a pharmacy to make controlled substances records available to law enforcement officials without a warrant or notice to the patients. The appellate court determined that, under both the Florida and U.S. constitutions, law enforcement needs trump any right to privacy the patients may have regarding the pharmacy records. The court cited a Florida statute which permits law enforcement officers to inspect or copy pharmacy controlled substances records without the need for a warrant or notice to the patients. The court concluded that, while patients have a right to privacy regarding their medical records, this right is not absolute and must “yield to compelling government interests” such as the need to enforce controlled substances laws. Addressing the possibility of a HIPAA violation, the appellate court also noted that HIPAA permits disclosure of patient records as required by state law or to comply with “an authorized investigative demand” and that suppression of evidence in a criminal trial is not a HIPAA violation remedy.
TIP: Be aware of state laws governing the seizure of protected health data.