HIPAA Guidelines for Releasing Information on the Condition of Patients
The implementation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets standards that all healthcare institutions follow to safeguard patient privacy and confidentiality.
In general, information about a patient may be released if it is included in the hospital's directory and if the patient has not specified that no information be released.
Specifically, Hallmark Health uses the following American Hospital Association (AHA) guidelines for release of patient information to the public and the media:
- Inquiries must identify the patient by name --Information about the patient's general condition and location of an inpatient, outpatient or emergency department patient may be released only if the inquiry specifically identifies the patient by name. No information may be given if a request does not include a specific patient's name or if the patient requests that the information not be released. This includes inquiries from the press.
- Release of patient's general condition and location -- As long as the patient has not requested that information be withheld, the Marketing & Communications Department may release the patient's one-word condition and location to individuals who inquire about the patient by name, without obtaining prior patient authorization. This includes inquiries from the press.
- Patient condition information --The Marketing & Communications Department releases all official patient information to media. In keeping with the guidelines of the AHA, we provide a one-word patient condition -- undetermined, good, fair, serious or critical -- unless otherwise instructed by the patient. Patient conditions are defined in accordance with the following AHA standards:
• Undetermined: Patient is awaiting physician and/or 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 be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.
Death of a Patient
The death of a patient may be reported to the authorities by the hospital, as required by law. Under HIPAA, hospitals cannot share information with the media on the specifics about sudden, violent or accidental deaths, or deaths from natural causes without the permission of the decedent's next-of-kin or other legal representative. A hospital also may not disclose information regarding the date, time or cause of death to the media.
If a Patient Is Treated and Released
If a patient has not specified that no information may be released, the hospital may disclose that a patient was treated and released. However, without patient authorization, it may not release information to the media regarding the date of release or where the patient went upon release.
The hospital may release patient condition and location information only if:
- The patient has not stated that he or she does not want information released, including information confirming his or her presence in the hospital.
- In the hospital's professional judgment, releasing such information would be in the patient's best interest.