Under new HIPAA regulations, hospitals may maintain a directory that may only include a patient's name, general condition, and religious affiliation. The hospital has a responsibility to tell patients what information will be included in the hospital directory and to whom that information will be disclosed. The hospital may inform the patient of this information verbally or in writing. The patient has the option to expressly state that he or she does not want information released—including information confirming his or her presence in the facility.
If a patient does not object to this information being included in a hospital directory, a reporter asking for the patient by name can be privy to the general condition of the patient. If media does not ask for the patient by name, no individual identifiable information about the patient may be disclosed. If HIPAA privacy standards are met, general-condition information may be provided that does not communicate specific information about the individual. The following one-word descriptions of a patient's condition will be released:
Still Being Evaluated/Assessed: Patient awaiting physician and 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.
Treated and Released: Patient received treatment but was not admitted.
Treated and Transferred: Received treatment. Transferred to a different facility.
Although a hospital may disclose that a patient was treated and released, it may not release information regarding the date of release or where the patient went upon release without patient authorization. Information in the directory (i.e. general condition) may be released only if the media or the public asks for the patient by name and only if the patient has not objected to or restricted the release of such information. If a patient is unable to communicate for the purpose of objecting to or restricting the use of directory information, such information can be released only if any past preferences are known and disclosure is in the best interest of the patient, in the professional judgment of the medical services provider.
The patient's location may be included in the hospital directory to facilitate visits by friends and family as well as the delivery of flowers, cards and gifts. However, as a matter of policy, the patient's location will not be given to the media. Rather, release of the patient’s location will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to ensure that release of such information will not interfere with patient care, aggravate the patient’s condition or endanger patient privacy or security.
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 patients
- Interviewing patients
- In general, if the patient is a minor, permission for any of these activities must be obtained from a parent or legal guardian