Patient Privacy and Media

What is HIPAA? 
HIPAA is an acronym that stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The law calls for administrative simplification through the adoption of national uniform standards for the electronic transmission of certain administrative and financial transactions. More relevant to the news media, HIPAA also requires covered entities (providers of medical services) to implement security and privacy standards.

What are the penalties for accessing patient information inappropriately or violating HIPAA?
The Federal government has determined that every American has the right to privacy and that as health care professionals we are forbidden from inappropriately accessing or sharing patient information without permission.  In fact, recent court cases have shown that health care workers can be held criminally accountable for any breach of patient confidentiality. We have an obligation to obey the law and to respect the privacy our patients demand we give them.

What are the guidelines for media on our campuses?  
Seeking medical care is often a sensitive and emotional time for most people. To ensure and respect the privacy of anyone on our campuses, we ask members of the media to always be accompanied by a member of our public relations team or hospital administration at all times. A public relations team members can assist with getting permission from patients, visitors and staff to conduct interviews and be videotaped or photographed for news stories. There are times the media are allowed to stand on or off our property and videotape a hospital sign for background in a story. Again, in this case we ask the media to contact a member of the public relations team who will inform security of the media's presence. Media members are not allowed to videotape patients, visitors or staff coming to and from the buildings without prior consent.

What if a reporter wants to discuss information that is already part of the public record, such as name or condition of the patient obtained from other sources?  
The media can legally obtain reports from various health care regulating agencies or the police that may contain patient health information. One might think that once information about a patient is in the public domain, the media is entitled to any and all information about that individual. This is not true. Health care providers are still bound by HIPAA privacy laws regardless of what information is in the hands of public agencies or the public in general.

For more information about HIPAA and releasing patient information to the media, please visit the American Hospital Association