In the middle of an emergency, providing crucial care to patients while also obeying regulatory requirements can create confusion at the worst possible time – as one hospital found in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
The shooting resulted in 49 deaths and 53 wounded, and Orlando hospitals faced an influx of emergency patients — and questions over how to communicate with their family and friends without violating privacy regulations.
Because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), there is often deep confusion over what healthcare providers can and cannot disclose about a patient who is in a coma or surgery or for other reasons are unable provide immediate consent. In the middle of an emergency, this confusion can be especially frustrating.
In this case, rather than debate what the law means by “in the exercise of professional judgment,” the Orlando Regional Medical Center asked Mayor Buddy Dyer to step in. Mayor Dyer told local news:
I reached out to the White House to see if we could get the HIPAA regulations waived. The White House went through the appropriate channels to waive those so the hospital could communicate with the families who were there.”
When both the president and the Health and Human Services secretary declare a national emergency and, sanctions and penalties for HIPAA noncompliance are waived for hospitals — including the requirements to obtain patients’ agreement to speak with family members or friends.
Except in this case, that wasn’t necessary. The HIPAA Privacy Rule does permit disclosing patient information in certain instances, regardless of whether an emergency waiver is activated. In this case, covered entities are permitted to disclose protected health information to family members, relatives, friends or others identified by the patient involved, including the patient’s location, general condition or death.
Knowing how to help patients in an emergency while also meeting the many regulations hospitals must follow is one of the reasons DRI developed its Healthcare Continuity training and certifications. For more information on the course, click here.