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Privacy and Patient Information
For media inquiries, please call the Communications Officer at (307) 739-7380.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) mandates regulations that govern privacy standards for health care information. HIPAA regulations specify the purposes for which information may and may not be released without authorization from the patient.
The following information is provided as a guideline for what information may be released.
Inquiries about a patient's condition and location
Information about condition and location of an inpatient, outpatient or emergency department patient may be released only if the inquiry specifically contains the patient's 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 news media.
As long as the patient has not requested that information be withheld, authorized personnel may release the patient's one-word condition and location without obtaining prior patient authorization.
One-word condition terms
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.
In addition, a hospital may disclose to individuals who ask for the patient by name, that a patient was treated and released. No specific health information may be provided. Information regarding the date of release or where the patient went upon release may not be given without patient authorization. Moreover, disclosing that a patient is deceased is a permissable disclosure as a statement of the patient's general condition. However, a hosptial may not disclose information regarding the date, time or cause of death.
Beyond the one-word condition: Media access to patients
The following activities require written authorization from the patient:
Drafting a detailed statement (i.e., anything beyond the one-word condition) for approval by the patient or the patient's legal representative.
Taking photographs of a patient
Interviewing a patient
If the patient is a minor, permission for any of these activities must be obtained from the child's parent or legal guardian.
A hospital representative will accompany the media at all times while they are in the hospital. Hospitals may deny the media access to any area at their discretion.
Releasing patient information in a disaster situation
When appropriate, the hospital may release general information to dispel public anxiety.
In highly charged situations such as disasters, the public may benefit from the release of general information when specific information cannot be released. For example, the hospital could indicate the number of patients that have been brought to the hospital by gender or age group (adults, children, teenagers, etc.). This type of general information may help reduce undue anxiety.
Matters of public record
What is a matter of public record?
Matters of public record refer to situations that are reportable by law to public authorities such as law enforcement agencies, the coronor or public health officer. While laws and/or regulations require health care facilities to report a variety of information to public authorities, it is not the responsibility of facilities to provide that information in response to calls or other inquiries from the media or other parties, including law enforcement officials. Instead, such calls should be directed to the appropriate public authority.
Are public record cases different from other cases?
No. Patients who are involved in matters of public record have the same privacy rights as all other patients, as far as the hospital is concerned. The mode of transportation by which the patient arrives at the hospital does not have bearing on our approach to releasing information about the patient. The fact that someone has been transported to the hospital by a police or fire department from an accident, crime scene or fire is a matter of public record likely to be reported by those agencies. These public records may prompt media calls to the hospital requesting a patient's condition. Only the one-word condition will be given.
There are numerous state statutes addressing the reporting of incidents ranging from child abuse to gun-shot wounds. The fact that the hospital has an obligation to report certain confidential information to a government agency does not make that information public and available to news reporters.
Media questions are referred to the public entity (such as the coroner's office, police, fire or health department) that receives such reports. The public entity is guided by the applicable statute as to whether it can release any or all of the information received.
Are celebrity cases different?
No. Celebrities, public figures and public officials are not subject to different standards than other patients when it comes to hospital policies for releasing information to the news media.
These guidelines are provided by the American Hospital Association.