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Tips for handling subpoenas

The first time I ever received a subpoena I was terrified: was I being sued? If so, what did I do? The envelope was sitting there for me, waiting until I got back from my vacation (more on that later). It used terms like "You are commanded to" and "you will be held in contempt of court." I knew pharmacy law well but was ill-prepared to handle this issue, and quite frankly it is only natural considering law classes in pharmacy school do not prepare students to handle subpoenas when they enter practice.


Fast forward five or so years and easily over a hundred subpoenas later and let's just say it's become a little more routine. I currently work for a health-system that has a thriving orthopedic market so worker's comp claims, claims arising from injury in a store (uh oh - Mrs. Smith didn't see that yellow sign and slipped on the floor) are commonplace.


After receiving care the patient's lawyer needs to collect all the medical bills they incurred during their care and before you know it I've got the envelope arriving at my pharmacy via certified-mail with the obvious law-firm name on it. Most often you will get a "subpoena duces tecum," meaning instead of showing up to court you can supply the records.


What now? Here are some tips from my experience on handling them:


Tip #1: Never release records without consulting your risk management department (or your attorney)


I put this one at the top because this is the most important thing to remember. Risk management reviewing the subpoena is a policy at most organizations for good reason - responding to a subpoena incorrectly can lead to a civil suit by the patient or fines (ex. fines for privacy violations).


I'm definitely not a lawyer, so unless you are one of the few PharmD/JD's out there you should not be releasing records without an attorney reviewing it. If you work for someone else, you should not release records even if you are a PharmD/JD unless their ris