Sunday, November 14, 2004

Read the privacy law before implementing an inhuman policy

Ok. Pay attention. If you think the law leads to an absurd or inhuman result, take a look at what the law actually says and make sure you really have to do what you think you have to do.

Case in point: An editorial in yesterday's Las Vegas Review Journal refers to a potentially heart-breaking incident at a local hospital in which over-zealous and ill-informed application of HIPAA (the federal health privacy law) led to a lonely, seriously injured boy being left alone without family at his bedside after witnessing the murder of his mother and having being stabbed in the chest himself. -- Opinion: EDITORIAL: 'Privacy' law fails brave boy:

"Legislation so frightens health care workers they deny existence of trauma victim

Las Vegas Valley residents got an unusually harsh lesson this week on the evils of overregulation by the federal government.

Shiloh Edsitty, a 12-year-old Schofield Middle School student, likely witnessed the slaying of his mother early Monday and had the resolve to escape her killer despite having a knife stuck in his chest. Despite an outpouring of support from friends and the community, the boy spent more than two days at University Medical Center without having a single familiar face bedside.

The reason? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, legislation weighed down by vague protections of patient privacy.

Because of this federal law, UMC representatives maintained they could not acknowledge whether the boy was a patient at the county's only public hospital. Little League teammates, a former foster parent and countless mothers who wanted to hold the boy's hand were turned away.

Nothing in HIPAA specifically mandates such an absurd policy. But because the law allows penalties of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison for the most flagrant violations -- the boy's attacker might spend less time incarcerated -- health care workers exercise caution to the point of paranoia when asked to release patient information.

Shiloh Edsitty should not have had to wait until Thursday, when relatives arrived in Las Vegas, to enjoy the company of a loved one."

For more articles on Shiloh's sad tale, see Google News "Shiloh Edsitty".

UPDATE: For the other side of the story, see the response from the hospital's CEO: Follow-up: Las Vegas hospital responds to article on hospitalized orphan. From the original article in the Vegas paper, it really did sound like the hospital over-reacted. After reading the CEO's response, it appears that was probably not the case, particularly because the hospital found the child's relatives to sit with him while he was recuperating.

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