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Patient Rights Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and our policies for releasing patient information

All health care facilities and personnel abide by a patient information privacy regulation that limits the amount of information provided to the public without patient authorization. This regulation has specific implications for the media, especially when it comes to covering trauma cases.

For the media’s benefit, below are some key facts about Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s HIPAA policies.

  • HIPAA is the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Most of us believe that our medical and other health information is private and should be protected, and we want to know who has this information. The Privacy Rule, a Federal law, gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information. The Privacy Rule applies to all forms of individuals' protected health information, whether electronic, written, or oral. The Security Rule is a Federal law that requires security for health information in electronic form.

  • Protected health information is any health information, in conjunction with any demographic information, that can be used to identify a patient and relates to health care services provided to the patient or the payment for those services. It includes:

    • Information your doctors, nurses, and other health care providers put in your medical record
    • Conversations your doctor has about your care or treatment with nurses and others
    • Information about you in your health insurer’s computer system
    • Billing information about you at your clinic
    • Most other health information about you held by those who must follow these laws

    It includes all medical records and other information, which identifies the patient, such as demographic, medical and financial (in any form), electronic, paper or spoken.

  • HIPAA protects every patient’s health information equally — celebrities, professional athletes, local community members, you, your family, your friends and your neighbors. There are no exceptions.

  • Please understand that HIPAA is not reporter friendly. It is designed to protect patient privacy by preventing patient information from being given to unauthorized individuals.

  • If the patient has agreed to be listed in our hospital directory, we can confirm the presence of the individual in our facility if the requestor provides the patient’s name. We will also be able to provide their location in the facility in general terms (e.g., intensive care unit, emergency room) and a one-word general condition of the patient. We cannot provide the patient’s room location because it may communicate additional information that the patient or family wish to keep private.

    • 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.
    • Expired — The patient has died.

    If a patient decides not to be listed in the hospital directory or chooses not to have a condition released, media relations staff, the nursing supervisor on-call, or any other health care professional will not be able to provide a condition update or even acknowledge that an individual is a patient. Our response will be, "I have no information available for a person by that name.”

    In the case of trauma patients, we will not be able to confirm that the patient is being treated at a Virginia Mason Franciscan Health hospital, nor provide a condition until the patient (or in case of incapacity, a family member) has been admitted to the hospital and decided whether or not to opt out of the hospital directory. This process can take hours or days.

  • To aid journalists in their stories, we can confirm whether we are or are not receiving victims of a particular accident, shooting, house fire or other event. In the case of disasters, we will provide the number of patients, the nature of injuries as we know them at the time, gender and range of ages. Once the patients have arrived and are being treated in the emergency department, we will not have additional information to provide until they have been admitted and have agreed to the previously described disclosures.

  • It is state law that we not release information about patients under the age of 18 without written parental or guardian authorization.

  • None.

  • If the patient is listed in the hospital directory and he/she subsequently has died, we will provide that information. Otherwise, and for all other information including time and cause of death, you will need to call the local Medical Examiner’s office.