Southcoast Health System adheres to a strict policy that the confidentiality of patient information is always our top priority.
Hospitals and health systems are responsible for protecting the privacy and confidentiality of their patients and patient information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) mandated regulations that govern privacy standards for health care information.
The news media has a responsibility to report matters of general and public interest as quickly and accurately as possible, realizing that Southcoast's primary responsibility is patient care and confidentiality.
The following guidelines must be followed at all times by members of the media when contacting Southcoast physicians, staff or patients or when accessing Southcoast facilities for the purposes of news gathering, reporting, research or other activities involved in the practice of journalism.
All members of the news media must:
- Make contact with Public Relations prior to entering any Southcoast property or speaking with Southcoast physicians, staff or patients.
- Identify themselves and their media affiliation, providing contact information such as telephone, fax and e-mail address.
- Follow the directions of the Public Relations representative and other Southcoast officials while on Southcoast properties.
Journalists wishing to speak with experts at Southcoast Health System, Southcoast Hospitals (St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River and Tobey Hospital in Wareham) or confirming a patient condition should contact Joyce Faria Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 508-961-5270 or by pager at 508-387-9605.
Southcoast Health System follows American Hospital Association's "Guidelines for Releasing Information on the Condition of Patients" revised to ensure consistency with HIPAA medical privacy regulations published in August 2002, as well as the guidance document released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in December 2002:
- Interviews & Photographs: Patient's written consent must be obtained before allowing patients to be interviewed or photographed. Public Relations will provide and retain consent forms. The patient's physician must also be consulted.
Cameras are not allowed in any Southcoast facility without prior approval from Public Relations and must be accompanied by Public Relations staff when on Southcoast property.
- Release of Information: Southcoast Health System respects and protects the privacy of all patients who are treated in its facilities. We are bound by legal and ethical obligations from releasing patient information (other than patient condition) to the media. Unless otherwise requested by the patient, the patient condition can be released only if a reporter provides the patient's full name. No information on minors, including confirmation of treatment, can be released without written consent by a parent or guardian.
- Opt Out: Under HIPAA, the hospital can release to the media only the one word condition listed in the hospital's directory. If a patient has "opted out" his/her information will not be available in the directory.
Southcoast adheres to the following patient one-word conditions are accepted under HIPAA medical privacy regulations:
Undetermined - 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 & Released and Treated & Transferred - Although a hospital may disclose that a patient was treated and released, under the new HIPAA regulations, the hospital may not release information regarding the date of release or where the patient went upon release.
Death of a Patient - After the next of kin are notified and if the patient has not opted out of the patient directory, the hospital may confirm that a patient is "deceased." Under new HIPAA medical privacy regulations, the time of death and cause of death may not be released.
Excerpted from the "Guidelines for Releasing Information on the Condition of Patients" published by the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development of the American Hospital Association.