Meritus Medical Center has taken the decision to stop issuing media announcements on patient conditions in order to better protect the privacy of patients and ensure their safety.
Meritus Communications Manager, Nicole Jovel, recently made the announcement, and stated that the new policy would be effective from Saturday.
Up until now, patient privacy has been respected. When the hospital received a call regarding the health status of a patient, general information would be provided to the caller if that person asked about the patient by name.
The hospital staff would tell the caller the patient was in critical, serious, fair or good condition. No further information would be provided, and if the patient had requested that his or her information remain private, hospital staff would not provide any details.
However, that information will now be kept private at all times, and will not be disclosed to the media. The hospital does not have any obligation to issue media announcements on patient conditions, and in an increasingly regulated healthcare environment, disclosing any information about patients has become risky.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – since the introduction of The Privacy Rule – requires healthcare providers – and other covered entities to protect the privacy of patients and keep their PHI secure. Issuing media announcements on patient conditions could potentially violate HIPAA and patient privacy.
The decision not to issue such information to the media came after careful consideration. Jovel said, “In conversations with clinicians and administrators, we determined we needed to really increase the level of privacy we were providing.”
If information relating to a patient is issued to the media, and thus to the general public, the patient could be placed at risk. Journalists frequently enquire about the victims of crime for their stories, and the release of that information could actually be detrimental to the patient. The scenario cited by Jovel was when the hospital does not know, initially, that a patient has been a victim of domestic violence.
However, there was another concern. By releasing information on current health status, which is subject to change, by the time the information is printed and distributed, that information could be incorrect. Jovel said, “You might come in, and you’re in serious condition, but by the next morning when the newspaper’s printed, you’re in fair condition, so we’ve inadvertently misrepresented that.”
Jovel went on to say, “For us, there were just too many ‘what ifs’ that we felt that we had to uphold the highest level of safety and security and privacy.”
The change will only stop media announcements about patients’ health. Friends and family members will still be able to call the hospital’s information line to find out the room number, and speak to the patient. However, in the absence of a consent form from the patient, media announcements will not be issued to the press. Of course, if the patients or their friends and families want to go to the press, that would be outside the control of the hospital.