(a) Notwithstanding Section 2263 and any other law making a communication between a physician and surgeon or a doctor of podiatric medicine and his or her patients a privileged communication, those provisions shall not apply to investigations or proceedings conducted under this chapter. Members of the board, the Senior Assistant Attorney General of the Health Quality Enforcement Section, members of the California Board of Podiatric Medicine, and deputies, employees, agents, and representatives of the board or the California Board of Podiatric Medicine and the Senior Assistant Attorney General of the Health Quality Enforcement Section shall keep in confidence during the course of investigations, the names of any patients whose records are reviewed and shall not disclose or reveal those names, except as is necessary during the course of an investigation, unless and until proceedings are instituted. The authority of the board or the California Board of Podiatric Medicine and the Health Quality Enforcement Section to examine records of patients in the office of a physician and surgeon or a doctor of podiatric medicine is limited to records of patients who have complained to the board or the California Board of Podiatric Medicine about that licensee.
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, the Attorney General and his or her investigative agents, and investigators and representatives of the board or the California Board of Podiatric Medicine, may inquire into any alleged violation of the Medical Practice Act or any other federal or state law, regulation, or rule relevant to the practice of medicine or podiatric medicine, whichever is applicable, and may inspect documents relevant to those investigations in accordance with the following procedures:
(1) Any document relevant to an investigation may be inspected, and copies may be obtained, where patient consent is given.
(2) Any document relevant to the business operations of a licensee, and not involving medical records attributable to identifiable patients, may be inspected and copied if relevant to an investigation of a licensee.
(c)(1) Notwithstanding subdivision (b) or any other law, in any investigation that involves the death of a patient, the board may inspect and copy the medical records of the deceased patient without the authorization of the beneficiary or personal representative of the deceased patient or a court order solely for the purpose of determining the extent to which the death was the result of the physician and surgeon's conduct in violation of the Medical Practice Act, if the board provides a written request to either the physician and surgeon or the facility where the medical records are located or the care to the deceased patient was provided, that includes a declaration that the board has been unsuccessful in locating or contacting the deceased patient's beneficiary or personal representative after reasonable efforts. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to allow the board to inspect and copy the medical records of a deceased patient without a court order when the beneficiary or personal representative of the deceased patient has been located and contacted but has refused to consent to the board inspecting and copying the medical records of the deceased patient.
(2) The Legislature finds and declares that the authority created in the board pursuant to this section, and a physician and surgeon's compliance with this section, are consistent with the public interest and benefit activities of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 1
(d) In all cases in which documents are inspected or copies of those documents are received, their acquisition or review shall be arranged so as not to unnecessarily disrupt the medical and business operations of the licensee or of the facility where the records are kept or used.
(e) If documents are lawfully requested from licensees in accordance with this section by the Attorney General or his or her agents or deputies, or investigators of the board or the California Board of Podiatric Medicine, the documents shall be provided within 15 business days of receipt of the request, unless the licensee is unable to provide the documents within this time period for good cause, including, but not limited to, physical inability to access the records in the time allowed due to illness or travel. Failure to produce requested documents or copies thereof, after being informed of the required deadline, shall constitute unprofessional conduct. The board may use its authority to cite and fine a physician and surgeon for any violation of this section. This remedy is in addition to any other authority of the board to sanction a licensee for a delay in producing requested records.
(f) Searches conducted of the office or medical facility of any licensee shall not interfere with the recordkeeping format or preservation needs of any licensee necessary for the lawful care of patients.
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