The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives patients and their medical records specific legal rights to privacy and confidentiality. The privacy provisions under HIPAA specify what kinds of patient information must remain confidential and the circumstances under which certain patient information may be released.
Since HIPAA has become a federal law, speaking to the media has become a whole new ballgame. As spokespeople, we can no longer give out the same information to the media as we have done for decades. This has made many reporters angry and frustrated, but as an authorized, hospital-designated spokesperson, only certain information can now be released.
Media representatives must be directed to the spokesperson, and patients must give written permission for photographs or interviews.
In the case of a hospital--as long as the patient has not opted out of the directory, the spokesperson may release the patient's one-word condition and location:
Public figures, such as elected officials or celebrities may be considered newsworthy, but are subject to the same privacy standards as other patients under HIPAA.
There are criminal penalties for wrongful disclosure of patient health information including fines and imprisonment. This includes any reporter who gains health information under false pretenses.
Remember, as a spokesperson, you must understand the parameters of the law regarding the release of information to the media and the public. It is the law!