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Do Theme Parks That Take Guest Temperatures Violate HIPAA Laws?

As theme parks move into unchartered territory, many concerns are being brought up that wouldn’t have even crossed our minds six months ago. Temperature checks continue to be something that nearly all parks across the United States are starting to roll out. We’ve run across this question a few times from our readers: do theme parks violate HIPAA laws by taking temperatures of their guests?

For those unfamiliar HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed in 1996. Indeed, HIPAA actually does aim to protect individuals and it does revolve around privacy issues. Thus, it’s understandable that folks may have some concerns.

I don’t claim to be a legal expert, but luckily, I know someone who is. Whenever I have a question regarding theme parks and the legalities, I reach out to Erik Beard, a lawyer who specializes in theme park attractions and runs The Legal Roller Coaster website. Here is his answered to how taking temperatures at theme parks don’t violate HIPAA.

The short answer is: taking temperatures does not violate HIPAA.  The reason taking temperatures at an amusement park does not violate HIPAA is simply because HIPAA does not apply to amusement parks.  HIPAA only imposes privacy obligations on “Covered Entities,” which is a defined term in the HIPAA statutes.  Without getting too deep into statutory language, suffice it to say that a “Covered Entity” is essentially limited to health care providers, health insurers, and/or similar health care entities.  So, especially with regard to guests, since an amusement park is not a “Covered Entity” as defined under the statute, HIPAA just does not apply when a park takes a guest’s temperature. 

In some narrow circumstances, i.e. where an employer administers its own health care plan for its employees, an employer can be considered a “Covered Entity.” That would only impose HIPAA obligations on protected health information of employees, not guests.  Moreover, I’m not aware of any parks that actually administer their own health plans so, even as to employees, HIPAA generally does not apply.

Lastly, I would caution that while HIPAA does not apply to temperature screenings, that is not to say that there aren’t other laws or legal theories that carry confidentiality requirements.  The Americans With Disabilities Act, for example, may require some level of confidentiality (particularly as to employee temperature screenings) and, depending on a particular state’s laws, there may be general privacy laws that are implicated that would require confidentiality as well.  So just because HIPAA doesn’t apply does not mean that no law applies.  Always best practice to keep this kind of information to a “need to know” basis only just to be safe.

I hope that answers your questions about if HIPAA is being violated by a theme park taking your temperature. Clearly, laws vary state by state when it comes to each individual park.

Erik Beard is Managing Member and General Counsel of International Ride Training LLC and author of The Legal Roller Coaster.  Erik can be reached at erik@ridetraining.com. Many thanks for contributing to today’s article!

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