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February 15, 2006

Law Enforcement Interviews of Hospital PatientsA Conundrum for Clinicians

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester (Drs Jones and Appelbaum); Center for Law and Social Responsibility, New England School of Law, Boston, Mass (Mr Siegel). Dr Jones is now with the Department of Psychiatry, Child Study Center, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY. Dr Appelbaum is now with the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Psychiatry, Law and Ethics, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY.

JAMA. 2006;295(7):822-825. doi:10.1001/jama.295.7.822

Law enforcement interviews of hospital patients are a common but underrecognized phenomenon in US medicine. Daily in emergency departments and inpatient trauma services, and sporadically in other departments, police officers request permission to interview patients who may have experienced, witnessed, or perpetrated crimes ranging from motor vehicle crashes to homicides. These interviews are often time sensitive, and how they are conducted may have clinical consequences, alter legal outcomes for patients and physicians, and affect public safety. Yet law enforcement access to patients is not explicitly regulated by federal or state law, relevant professional guidelines are so limited as to be negligible, and medical literature on the subject is minimal. Decision making by both clinicians and police is consequently unstructured, ad hoc, and potentially susceptible to adverse outcomes that might be preventable with appropriate guidance.

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