The public knows or suspects your hospital has admitted an elected official, celebrity, VIP or other high-profile patient. A situation like this will really test your staff’s knowledge and compliance with HIPAA.
Your hospital’s policies and procedures should cover situations on protecting patient confidentiality, but let’s look at how communications should be handled.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE TO STAFF
As in other crisis communications scenarios, you need to first communicate with internal audiences.
Remind or educate staff and volunteers of your aforementioned policies. This step should be in addition to periodical (e.g. annual) reminders or training. For the team working with the patient directly, address scenarios such as visitors, deliveries, security, fans, etc.
For example, what happens when a caller says he/she is the high-profile patient’s family member? HIPAA does not require the hospital to verify the caller’s identity; however, your hospital should have special rules about doing so (e.g. acquiring a safe list from the patient).
Also, be sure staff members are warned/reminded that the hospital monitors and keeps track of access to all electronic records so that no one is tempted to try to confirm the patient’s identity. (See what happened after George Clooney was a patient of Palisades Medical Center.)
Consider using an alias for the high-profile patient as another deterrent. Your goal should not only be to avoid a HIPAA violation, but also that staff not assigned to the high-profile patient are not even aware of his/her presence.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE TO THE PUBLIC
Even if the patient or family member grants permission to disclose information, you should release only the minimum required information.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “covered hospitals and other covered health care providers can use a facility directory to inform visitors or callers about a patient’s location in the facility and general condition.” That means you may describe the high-profile patient’s health condition in general terms, but don’t go beyond that.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Revelation PR, Advertising & Social Media offers healthcare providers services related to media relations, crisis communications, internal communications, media buying, content marketing and social media management. Please contact Brian Lee, brian [at] experiencerevelation.com or 608-622-7767.