Federalizing Medical Conversations?

Will the federal government be taking a closer look at conversations between doctors and patients, in the name of protecting privacy?Here is an excerpt from a recent e-mail sent by a hospital administrator to physicians I know.  (I’ve deleted the name of the sender and the hospital).


Please protect yourself while protecting our patients. Make it part of your practice to ask every patient for permission to speak in front of others when others are present.

It is preferred that others are asked to step out of the room before asking for permission to allow the patient to freely respond, if this is not an option, the question must be asked regardless.  Never assume that it is “o.k.” to speak in front of others, i.e; husband, wife, mother, father, friends without asking for permission before speaking.  If a patient initiates a conversation in front of others, take a moment to ask permission before responding.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.

Privacy complaints are being reported to The Office of Civil Rights, (the OCR is the agency who investigate alleged Privacy violations)  with much more frequency than years past.  Fines for privacy violations can range from $100 to $50,000 for each violation for accidental violations up-to and including $50,000 for each violation for willful neglect.   Willful neglect violations, (involving monetary gain), often include criminal penalties…


Should doctors protect patient privacy? Yes, of course.

Should doctors take steps to make sure patients are free to discuss sensitive information (by requesting family members step out if necessary)?  Yes.

Should it literally become a “federal case” if doctors fail to follow proper protocol before each medical discussion with patients and their families?  I don’t think so.

Federalizing these relatively minor offenses has tremendous potential for misuse and selective enforcement.  We’ve seen this in other areas, as in this 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, “As Criminal Laws Proliferate, More Are Ensnared“.

It looks like we may be seeing more of this in health care as well.

Also read Vodkapundit: Care versus Coverage


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