We’ve had an unusual number of rather high-profile unfortunate indicents recently. We get lots of questions about the incident and the outcome for the patient from witnesses, concerned passers-by, friends and family, etc. It’s nice to live and work in a community of regular customers that have such concern for each others’ well-being. But I thought it would be good here to explain, generally, the context within which we gather and disperse information.
The United States has patient privacy laws that prevent us from giving out information except as is necessary for patient care. (The actual laws are quite complex. For more complete information read HIPAA and PSQIA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and the Patient Safety and Qualilty Improvement Act of 2005. See ya’ in a couple months.)
Generally, we try to give friendly but fairly vague answers that sound like we’re telling you something when really we’re not. We don’t do this because we’re jerks, we do this because it’s what the ethics of our profession require.
I’ve had this catch patients’ friends and family members by surprise. “Why can’t you tell me about my sister-in-law or my life-long buddy”? But if you’ve followed the Gay Marriage debate at all lately you’ll know this is a real concern for more than a few people. Unless you’re married to, the parent of, or the child of a patient, you might not have access to visit them or find out about their condition while under medical care.
And EVEN IF you’re married to, the child of, or the parent of a patient, you might not get information about them released to you. It depends on what’s necessary and what they want kept confidential. (Teenage birth control stuff comes to mind as an example.)
For our part, we generally will supply information to patients at the address or phone number they provide to us at the time of their injury. Want confirmation that your daughter’s injured foot really prevents her from driving to your house for Easter? You’ll have to ask her! Want details of your ex-wife’s dislocated shoulder that prevents her from working sent to your divorce attorney? Sorry, we can’t help you.
You may see us out taking pictures or measurements at particular accident sites. We gather additional information about certain types of accidents. Generally, this information is provided through channels that require professional accountability such as to employers, insurance claim adjustors, attorneys, etc., but not to your general yah-hoo passer-by hoping to catch a glimpse of gore and mayhem, and not to your buddy who knows a guy who knows a guy.
Protecting our customers’ privacy is important to us. Still, like your mother always said, when you’re out in public you should always wear your good underwear just in case!