Monday, January 9, 2006

"Surviving Miner Develops Slight Fever" - How much detail can doctors give the press?

Slate on HIPAA:
The only trapped miner to survive last week's explosion in West Virginia developed a slight fever on Monday, according to his doctors. Randal McCloy Jr. remains in critical condition, and he's still connected to a ventilator even though he is now breathing on his own. Is there any private information the hospital can't give to the press?

Yes. Under federal privacy rules, doctors can give the press (and the public at large) only the most general information about a patient, called "directory information." They can confirm that a specific patient has been admitted to the hospital, and they can give a short assessment of his overall condition. (Most assessments are just one word—good, fair, serious, or critical.) If a patient is conscious and alert when he comes into the hospital, he's given the option to keep even this general information under wraps.
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