Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 9:33 AM

COA: Discovery Orders Requiring Disclosure of Medical Records Are Immediately Appealable

In The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Woods, the Court of Appeals held that discovery orders requiring the disclosure of patient medical records are immediately appealable.

Woods arose out of the Dental Board's investigation into two complaints filed against Dr. E. Jean Woods. As part of the investigation, the Dental Board issued twenty one subpoenas requesting patient records from Dr. Woods' office. Dr. Woods tried, but failed, to have the subpoenas quashed on the grounds that HIPAA precluded disclosure of the subpoenaed records. The Dental Board sought and received an order from the Wake County Superior Court requiring Dr. Woods to comply with the subpoenas. Dr. Woods' filed an interlocutory appeal regarding several of the Superior Court's rulings on discovery issues, including the decision to grant the Dental Board's motion to enforce the subpoenas.

The Court of Appeals recognized that although interlocutory appeals are generally not allowed, "when a party asserts a statutory privilege, which directly relates to the matter to be disclosed under an interlocutory discovery order ... the challenged order affects a substantial right" and is immediately appealable." The Court found that the order enforcing the subpoenas for patient records satisfied this standard because "if Woods is required to disclose the very documents that she alleges are protected from disclosure by the statutory privilege, then a right materially affecting those interest which a person is entitled to have preserved and protected by law - a 'substantial right' - is affected." In other words, the statutory protections afforded to patients by HIPAA would be rendered meaningless if Dr. Woods was not allowed to seek immediate review of an order requiring disclosure of patient records.

Althought the Court sided with Dr. Woods on the issue of the propriety of the appeal, the Court sided with the Dental Board on the merits. The Court held that HIPAA did not bar the disclosure of the subpoenaed records because "[t]he Dental Board was conducting a disciplinary investigation, and Woods, as a health care provider, was authorized to release the requested information under HIPAA regulations."

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