To provide appropriate protection of patient privacy and to ensure complete and accurate statements about agency policies, practices, issues and events, it is the policy of CNEHH to refer all news media inquiries to the Office of the Director of Public Relations or the designated representative of the Director. The official spokespersons for CNEHH will be limited to the President and CEO and/or the Director of Public Relations unless they shall specifically designate another individual to speak on behalf of CNEHH. This process includes not only release of patient information as permitted by law, but also inquiries as to programs and services provided by the agency and health care issues or concerns which may involve CNEHH or a member of our staff.
Patient Privacy Statutes Governing Information Release:
Federal privacy regulations (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act- HIPAA) and state law section 5-37, 3-1 of the General Laws of Rhode Island place constraints on the way in which patient information may be released. This policy is intended to in good faith comply with all applicable laws (see condition statements below.
Patient information is released to the news media only by the Public Relations Office during regular weekday working hours and otherwise by the Administrative Director on call on nights, weekends or holidays following the criteria of this policy. The Director of Public Relations or an appropriate Director designee are available on call at all times through the agency’s answering service to consult regarding release of information to the news media. If the intensity of such inquiries is determined to require it, the Director on call will assume responsibility for release of information to the media.
A patient’s right to privacy and the confidentiality of their personal health information (PHI) is of vital importance. In certain cases, however, unless the patient chooses not to authorize such release, the agency will confirm limited information to the news media on their inquiry. The agency does not proactively release such information unless in the event of a major health emergency or disaster situation and then only such information as s permitted by statute. (See Other Issues section below). News media inquiries are generally initiated in connection with a news event, such as an accident, fire or other circumstance that makes the patient’s general condition a matter of public interest.
Death of a Patient:
The death of a patient is presumed to be a matter of public record and may be reported by the agency after the next of kin has been notified. A time of death may be given, but under no circumstances is a cause of death released. All efforts are to be taken to safeguard the family from premature print or broadcast publication of death.
The death of a public patient (i.e., a death by violence or a death unattended or under suspicious circumstances) is referred to the Rhode Island Medical Examiner’s Office and any inquiries beyond confirmation of time of death must be referred to that office.
Release of Information Regarding Prominent Citizens and/or Celebrities:
Each patient is accorded the same right to privacy, no matter what their circumstances or level of interest by the general public. However, in the event that a person of significant public interest is treated by the agency, it is expected there will be media attention. The Director of Public Relations or designated representative will meet with the patient and/or next of kin to coordinate release of information to the media including collection of a signed media release form.
Request to Photograph/Draw or Videotape Patients:
All requests for photographs, drawings or videotapes of patients (including those by the news media, attorneys or law enforcement officers) are to be referred directly to the Public Relations Department. There are no exceptions. No photos, drawing or videotapes will be obtained from a patient unless informed consent has been provided through the CNEHH permission for Media Release form. The director of Public Relations or appropriate designee will review the Media Release for with the patient prior to his/her signature and it will be filed in the patient’s record prior to any photograph, drawing or videotape. The Media Release form will be rendered null and void if the patient chooses to exercise their right of cessation of photographing, drawing or videotaping.
In all cases, CNEHH will cooperate with law enforcement officials in cases where there is legitimate need (patient safety, etc.) to withhold patient information from the news media.
In all cases, the agency defers to the wishes of the patient or the patient’s designated representative in the matter of a request that no information be released. HIPAA privacy regulations cover such protection (see above under condition statements). Likewise, if the patient or family, for whatever reason, desires to make more information available, as in the form of an interview or statement, the agency will assist by preparing and/or releasing the information if asked.
In the event of a natural or man-made disaster situation, HIPAAA regulations take into consideration the unusual nature of such events. Common sense applies in communication of information to the new media and the sharing of limited demographic information with other health care providers for purposes of patient identification. The agency’s Disaster Preparedness Plan includes procedures for dealing with the news media.