All media inquiries shall be responded to in a helpful and timely manner, providing reasonable disclosure except as it relates to information of a confidential, strategic or proprietary nature. All media inquiries are the responsibility of the hospital president and, by delegation, the public relations manager.
To appropriately coordinate hospital communications with media sources.
All news media related calls should be referred to the public relations manager, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or to the clinical coordinator on-site after 5 p.m. and on the weekends.
When calls are received in Public Relations, efforts will be immediately made to obtain answers to questions. If the caller wishes to talk directly to the president and the request is of a reasonable nature, arrangements will be made at the convenience of the president. An effort to learn the nature of the questions to be asked will be made in advance of the proposed interview.
If the president is unavailable (not in the hospital and/or unable to be reached for comment) and the media inquiry is one of an urgent nature, the public relations manager will meet with the administrator on call to determine the best option for response.
If the media inquiry does not require information from the hospital president and the inquiry is more in-depth than information available from the public relations manager, then the public relations manager will arrange for the media to speak with the most qualified administrative representative (depending on the subject matter) or the administrator-on-call. Whenever possible, the public relations manager should be present during the interview.
If neither the public relations manager, the president or the administrator-on-call are available, no other representative shall speak on behalf of the hospital unless authorized by the president or the administrator-on-call.
Media persons entering the hospital must report first to Public Relations for escort to specific areas of the hospital.
The hospital shall obtain signed release forms from any patient or visitor who is photographed and/or interviewed in the hospital before publication rights are to be granted. Individuals granting consent have the right to request cessation of filming or recording at any time and to rescind consent for use within a reasonable time prior to the material being used. This applies not only to external sources like TV and newspaper media, but also to internal sources like UHC’s in-house newsletter, Stethoscoop, and our community newsletter, Housecall. Such forms are available in Public Relations, Patient Services and through the administrator-on-call.
When recordings, films, or other images of patients are made for external use, the hospital obtains and documents informed consent prior to producing the recordings, films, or other images. This informed consent includes an explanation of how the recordings, films or other images will be used.
When a patient is unable to give informed consent prior to the production of recordings, films, or other images, the production may occur provided that doing so is permitted by the hospital's written policy, which is established through an ethical mechanism (i.e., an ethics committee) that includes community input.
When a patient is unable to give informed consent prior to the production of recordings, films, or other images, the product remains in the hospital's possession and is not used for any purpose until and unless informed consent is obtained.
When a patient is unable to give informed consent prior to the production of recordings, films, or other images, and informed consent for use cannot subsequently be obtained, the hospital either destroys the product or removes the non-consenting patient from the product.
Before engaging in the production of recordings, films, or other images of patients, anyone who is not already bound by the hospital's confidentiality statement is required to sign a confidentiality statement to protect the patient's identity and confidential information.
A public information command post will be established at a location deemed appropriate by the public relations manager. If the situation involves a disaster or fire, the guidelines in the hospital’s Emergency Management Plan shall be followed.
Public Relations will coordinate information regarding the situation and be the information link between the hospital and the media.
If information is not yet available, or if next of kin has not been notified, all media inquiries should be logged and callbacks made as soon as information is releasable.
When appropriate, release general information to help dispel public anxiety. For example, the spokesperson might say, “UHC is treating four individuals as a result of an explosion”. The spokesperson may state the number of patients who have been brought to UHC by gender or by age group (adults, children, teenagers, etc.).
When Not to Release Information
In order to protect the privacy rights of patients with psychiatric/behavioral health needs, federal and state laws prohibit the hospital spokesperson from even acknowledging they are a patient or receiving psychiatric/behavioral health treatment at UHC. No information whatsoever may be released on patients admitted to 2 South (Psychiatric/Behavioral Health Unit) without specific written authorization from the patient or legal representative of the patient. All disclosures of psychiatric/behavioral health information must include a statement prohibiting redisclosures of such information without the consent of the patient. Unauthorized disclosures and redisclosures violate federal and state law.
In response to a media inquiry about a patient who has opted-out of the directory, the response should be that “federal medical privacy regulations allow the hospital to release to the media only the information in the hospital’s directory and the hospital does not have any information about the person in its directory”.
Information about the condition of an inpatient, outpatient or emergency department patient may be released only if the inquiry specifically contains the patient’s name. No information is to be given if a request does not include a specific name.
As long as the patient has not requested that information be withheld, the UHC spokesperson may release the patient’s one-word condition without obtaining prior patient authorization.
For the one-word condition, use the terms “undetermined”, “good”, “fair”, “serious” or “critical”. (See definitions of patients conditions attached to this policy)
To safeguard patient privacy, disclosure of patient location to the media without patient permission is prohibited.
Information about the cause of death must come from the patient’s physician, and its release must be approved by a legal representative of the deceased. It is not appropriate to share information with the media on the specifics about sudden, violent or accidental deaths, as well as deaths from natural causes, without the permission of the decedents next-of-kin or other legal representative.
Beyond the one-word condition. The following activities require written authorization from the patient:
Drafting a detailed statement (i.e. anything beyond the one-word condition) for approval by the patient or the patient’s legal representative.
Information provided on the patient’s condition is limited to the following:
UNDETERMINED – Patient awaiting physician and assessment.
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 & RELEASED* – Received treatment but not admitted.
TREATED & TRANSFERRED* – Received treatment. Transferred to a different facility.
DISCHARGED* – No longer at the facility.
DECEASED – If a patient has not asked that his or her information be kept out of the hospital’s directory, the patient’s general condition – deceased- may be released. The date, time or cause of death cannot be disclosed.
The term “stable” should not be used as a condition. Furthermore, this term should not be used in combination with other conditions, which by definition, often indicate a patient is unstable.
Matters of public record refer to situations that are reportable by law to public authorities, such as law enforcement agencies, the coroner or public health officer. While laws and/or regulations require hospitals to report a variety of information to public authorities, it is not the responsibility of facilities to provide that information in response to calls or inquiries from the media. Instead, such calls should be directed to the appropriate public authority.
Public record cases are not different from other cases. Patients involved in matters of public record have the same privacy rights as all other patients, as far as the hospital is concerned. Only the one-word condition should be given.
There are numerous state statutes addressing reporting of incidents ranging from child abuse to gunshot wounds. The fact that a hospital has an obligation to report certain confidential information to a governmental agency does not make that information public and available to the news reporters. Refer media questions to the public entity (such as coroner’s office, police, fire or health department) that receives such reports. The public entity will be guided by the applicable statute as to whether it can release any or all of the information received.
* Information may not be released regarding the date of release or where the patient went upon release without patient authorization.