New Federal Law Changes Access to Patient Information

April 9, 2003

New federal regulations require some changes in the way we report patient information to you. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) has established privacy standards that will protect the kind of information we can provide about hospital patients. Hospitals need to comply with these standards by April 14, 2003.

Since these rules are uniform, we have joined to explain how they will affect our response to your requests for patient information. We hope this unified communication will eliminate any confusion over what’s permissible under the new law.

How the New Rules Work

HIPAA regulations allow us to release to the media only the information in our hospital directories, which include the names and conditions of patients. Under the new law, individuals entering a hospital for any kind of treatment will be given an opportunity to “opt in “ or “opt out” of the patient directory. If they “opt in,” hospitals will be able to provide you with a medical condition as long as you provide the patient’s name. However, the need to obtain patient approval could prevent the release of information immediately after a patient has been brought to the hospital, especially if the person is unconscious and unable to make that choice.

If the patient “opts out,” or if you do not provide a first and last name, no information can be given. In this case, HIPAA will not even allow us to acknowledge that the patient is or was at our facility.

Available Conditions

If you provide us with a name and if the patient has agreed to be included in the directory, the following conditions may be given:

Undetermined – Patient is awaiting evaluation by a physician.

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 and Released – Received treatment, but was not admitted.

Treated and Transferred – Treated and transferred to another facility. We may not disclose where the patient has been transferred.

Deceased – Provided the deceased had not opted out, this condition will only be given out after the next of kin has been notified. Information about the cause of death must come from the patient’s physician and a legal representative of the deceased must approve its release.

Emergency Circumstances

In the case of a disaster, the law permits us to release general information to allay concerns of the public. This information would not identify any individual, but would include the number of those injured and group conditions (i.e. five critical, two serious, 10 undetermined).

Media Access to Patients

All requests for patient interviews or photographs must come through each hospital’s Public Relations office. All media visits must be coordinated through our offices and a member of our staff must escort you during your visit. We will be glad to assist you. However, please be aware that we must follow certain policies before interviews can take place. We will make every effort to meet your deadlines, but cannot arrange interviews without first getting the necessary approvals.

We remain dedicated to helping you as much as we can. If you’d like to discuss this even further, feel free to contact any of us:

Doug Allred, Moses Cone Health System, (336) 832-8659

Diane Reaves, High Point Regional Health System, (336) 878-6200

Karen Richardson, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, (336) 716-4453

Freda Springs, Forsyth Medical Center, (336) 718-4079

Jane Wilder, Thomasville Medical Center, (336) 476-2442

How to Get Patient Information

For patient information, you can reach us at the numbers listed below:

Forsyth Medical Center: 336-718-0025 (business hours) 336-761-3106 (pager) (after hours) 336-476-2442 (business hours, Thomasville Medical Center) 336-237-5456 (pager) (after hours, Thomasville Medical Center)

High Point Regional Health System: 336-878-6200 (business hours) 336-821-7807 (pager) (holidays, weekends and nights)

Moses Cone Health System: 336-832-8659 (business hours) 336-832-7000 (after hours, The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital) 336-832-1000 (after hours, Wesley Long Community Hospital) 336-832-6500 (after hours, The Women’s Hospital of Greensboro) 336-634-4559 (Annie Penn Hospital) 336-634-1010 (Annie Penn Hospital after hours)

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: 336-716-4587 (during business hours) 336-716-3418 (holidays, weekends and nights)

Media Relations