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.
This 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 Patient Information
Federal HIPAA regulations prevent St. Joseph's Healthcare System's physicians, and all health care providers from disclosing "protected health information" regarding a patient without the patient's prior consent. "Protected health information" includes details about the patient's health, health care or payment, including the patient's condition, treatment or facts giving rise to the their health care.
HIPAA does allow St. Joseph's Healthcare System to disclose to the media certain limited information from the hospital's directory unless the patient objects.
45 C.F.R. § 164.510(a) Under limited exception, St. Joseph's may only disclose the following information if the media representative asks for the patient by first and last name:
- Whether the patient is in St. Joseph's Healthcare System. Although St. Joseph's Healthcare System can disclose whether the person is a patient, it cannot disclose where the patient is located within the facility.
- A description of the patient's general condition, e.g., whether the patient's condition is "undetermined," "good," "critical," or the patient has been "treated and released." St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not disclose any specific medical information about the patient. 45 C.F.R. § 164.510(a) (1)(C).
St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not provide this information if the patient has objected to such disclosures or if the hospital determines that it is not in the best interests of the patient to disclose the information.
II. Special Concerns
HIPAA regulations require the patient or their personal representative to consent to disclosures. In emergency situations, St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not be able to obtain the patient's consent because the patient is unconscious or incapable of giving consent. Accordingly, the hospital may not be able to disclose any information to the media in the immediate aftermath of an emergency because there has not been time to obtain the consent from the patient or the patient's representative.
St. Joseph's Healthcare System's privacy obligations do not end with the patient's death. The same privacy rules apply after a patient has died. If consent has been obtained and the next of kin has been notified, St. Joseph's Healthcare System may disclose that a patient is "deceased"; however, St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not provide any information about the death, including the date, time, or cause.
Drug or Alcohol Treatment
St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not disclose any information concerning a patient who is being treated for drug or alcohol abuse, including any information about his or her presence in the facility.
Matters of Public Record or Public Knowledge
The privacy rules apply even though information is a matter of public record or public knowledge. Absent a patient's consent as described above, St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not disclose protected health information to the media even though the same information may be found in public records or has been reported elsewhere.
Information Beyond the General Description of Condition
A specific written authorization must be obtained from the patient or their legal representative before the hospital can do any of the following:
- Release medical information or a detailed statement about the patient, which includes anything beyond a one-word description of the patient's condition.
- Permit the media to take videos or photographs of the patient or their representatives on hospital property.
- Permit the media to interview the patient or the patient's representative on hospital property.
In the event of a disaster, St. Joseph's Healthcare System may disclose information to the media if it does not identify a patient. Thus, the hospital might report or confirm that a disaster has occurred and, in general, that unidentified patients have been admitted for treatment. However, St. Joseph's Healthcare System may not disclose any information that identifies or could be used to identify a patient.
Public Relations representatives will be on site to assist with media inquiries. Should it be necessary, a Media Information Center will be established and the Public Relations team will release information as appropriate at pre-established intervals.
III. Penalties for Wrongful Disclosure
Hospitals and others can face serious penalties for using or disclosing protected health information about their patients without proper permission. Violations may result in fines or imprisonment.