Today's Gainesville Sun asks the question: Is HIPAA, the patients' privacy law, getting in the way of police work. The answer is "probably". (I can hear in my head some people saying "the Constitution gets in the way of police work; that's what it's supposed to do.") One of the big problems is that hospitals interpret the law in very different ways, leaving police scratching their heads. We have the same problem with PIPEDA, particularly when the consent exceptions are oddly worded and lend themselves to broadly divergent interpretations.
While this will not give the police the carte blanche access they want, hospital associations should make an effort to come up with a consistent interpretation of HIPAA so that the ground rules are understood by all. I have seen some hospital counsel who may have a great facility with general health and employment law issues, but don't grasp the nuances of how privacy laws affect their operations. Without this, patients get different protections at different hosptials and, I expect, the police are sometimes left scratching their heads when an inquiry is accepted at one facility but not at another.