naming ebola patients
October 23, 2014 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Why/how are US patients who have contracted ebola virus disease identified by name to the newsmedia?

Isn't this a massive violation of medical privacy? Is it legal?
posted by threeants to Law & Government (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
At a wild guess, it's a matter of exigency and the Greater Good theory. Yes, one person's privacy is being violated, but the urgency of tracking down other people who may have become infected kind of trumps it. Icky, if you're an absolutist about things, but...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:10 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

(I didn't mean to imply you're an absolutist; that was the general 'you')
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:11 PM on October 23, 2014

This article makes it look like it's going the other way -- journalists are discovering the identify of the patients, and hospitals are then allowed to use the patient's name once they've been identified.
But is federal law regarding patient privacy violated when such institutions talk to media in such high-profile cases? Or do public safety and the right to know trump such concerns?

The hospital news conference is a familiar media trope. But such coverage is deceptive. According to a spokesman for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, limits information released by hospitals to a one-word general condition update — good, fair, serious, critical — if two criteria are met: The patient is in the hospital directory and the media has the patient's name.

If a patient chooses to opt out of the directory, a doctor or hospital cannot release any information.

A Wall Street Journal story reported Emory would not comment on Brantly's condition or treatments being received. But the CDC was more forthcoming on the Sunday talk shows, noting Brantly was improving. Much of what is being reported actually comes from family and the charity the pair worked for. And experts not associated with the hospital are free to speculate.
Healthcare workers are not allowed to discuss a patient's case without a release of information, but the patient's family and friends certainly are (whether they should is a different matter).
posted by jaguar at 8:14 PM on October 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

You might be interested in this article from Poynter.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:15 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think this may contain your answer on the complexities of the issue.

...She added, however, that "The public's right to know in the context of public health does trump HIPAA, by design -- the Privacy Rule allows authorities to warn anyone who might have come into contact with the patient -- this is in the best interest of all parties."

posted by nightrecordings at 8:15 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

+1 to jaguar's answer: the family and friends reveal the patient's identity, rather than the patient's healthcare providers. HIPAA covers insurers, employer medical plans, and healthcare providers.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:48 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yesterday I heard on the news that the family of one of the patients had released a statement saying that she was recovered from Ebola and soon to be released from the hospital, but doctors and the hospital would not confirm this.

So many of the patients themselves are speaking to the media, through family.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:16 AM on October 24, 2014

So many of the patients themselves are speaking to the media, through family.

Well, while that's a good point, Amber Vinson, the person in question, was named as soon as she was transported to the hospital, by hospital authorities.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:49 AM on October 24, 2014

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