Our goal is to make accessing St. Joseph's facilities and expert medical staff as easy and efficient as possible for the media while still complying with Federal regulations such a HIPAA and American Hospital Association guidelines.
Release of Patient Information and Conditions
Beginning April 14, 2003, hospital and health care providers in the United States are required to comply with federal privacy regulations enacted under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The HIPAA Privacy Rule is codified at 45 C.F.R. part 164, and limits the ability of the medical center to disclose information to the media.
The following summary is designed to explain these limits to the media and facilitate understanding and cooperation between the media and medical center personnel.
I. Release of Information
In accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), St. Joseph's Healthcare System will inform patients: a.) that it can release general information related to their condition; b.) to whom that information will be disclosed; c.) that patients have the option of stating that they do not want any information released to the media, including confirmation of their presence in the healthcare system. If the patient requests that no information be released, St. Joseph's Healthcare System will honor the patient's request.
The fact that a patient has been treated or admitted to the healthcare system, as well as his/her general condition (see HIPAA approved definitions below) may be given if the inquiry contains the patient's name and as long as the patient has not requested that the information be withheld.
- HIPAA allows no discretion for reporting any details other than general condition. Any specific information such as time of admission, extent of injuries or type of treatment, interviews with patients or attending physicians and photographs can only be released with a specific written authorization of the patient.
- No information regarding treatment for psychiatric conditions, substance abuse, the AIDS virus or any other sensitive conditions or circumstances will be released. Special discretion should be used when releasing information regarding minors, victims of sexual assault and attempted suicides.
- If a patient is unconscious and cannot express an information release preference, the healthcare system must determine if the patient expressed the preference during the past hospital stay. If no preference is known, the hospital must decide if disclosure is in the patient's "best interest."
II. Matters of Public Record and Public Figures
- Under HIPAA, matters of public record (those situations that are by law reportable to public authorities such as police, coroner, or public health officials) are now no different than other cases. Victims of accidents, explosions, falls, shootings, stabbings, injury from fire, natural disasters, or terrorism have the same privacy rights as all other patients. Media calls requesting patient information should be answered with only the one-word condition.
- As with any patient, when a public figure is hospitalized and the media inquiry contains the patient's name, confirmation and the one-word condition may be given unless the patient requests that no information be released.
- In high-profile cases, especially those resulting in multiple or mass casualties, only information as to the number of injured and general conditions can be released without names.
III. HIPAA-Approved Patient Conditions – Defined
Unless the patient has expressed otherwise and opted out of releasing any information, only the following one-word conditions about the patient's condition will be released:
- Under evaluation - Patient undergoing assessment.
- Good – Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable; indicators are excellent.
- Fair – Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable; indicators are favorable.
- Serious – Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill; indicators are questionable.
- Critical – Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may not be conscious; indicators are unfavorable.
- Treated and Released – Received treatment but not admitted.
- Treated and Transferred – Received treatment. Transferred to a different facility.
- If the patient has expired, this fact can be reported to the media only after the patient has been pronounced dead and family has been notified. However, death is a condition subject to HIPAA restrictions, so if the patient initially opted out of providing information altogether a hospital cannot say the patient has died.
Note: The term "stable" should not be used as a condition or in combination with other conditions.