Have you ever called to find out the status of a friend or relative sent to the hospital on short notice? And been turned down flat? Spent hours or even days trying to locate a loved one?
You're a Privacy Victim.
HIPAA, the 1996 health privacy law, prevents the disclosure of health information without the patient's consent. Hospitals must get consent before revealing who is in the hospital, for how long, and in what condition. Hospitals don't have to get consent, but if they don't, then they must withhold all information about a patient. In a coma? Not HIPAA's problem. Maybe someone who loves you will show up with a power of attorney. You've got one of those handy, right?
I didn't think so. Yet this is just one of the privacy disasters that HIPAA can cause. The police in Chester, Delaware, got a call from one man who told them that his wife, in need of a psychiatric evaluation, "was transferred to another hospital and the hospital wouldn’t tell him what hospital she was transferred to."
Surely HIPAA has some good effects that balance out the inconvenience. Well, let's see. Millions of people try to call hospitals to get information about relatives and friends. Many of them are brusquely turned away, and they must spend hours or days trying to find their missing friend -- at a nearly incalculable cost in anxiety and fear. That's on one side of the ledger. On the other, there may be a small number of battered spouses who are hiding from their assaulter in the hospital. HIPAA preserves their privacy. Plus the privacy of a few politicians whose condition might be compromised if their hospital stay were leaked.
You'd have to weigh the privacy of a few politicians pretty heavily to make that balance work. Surely that's not how HIPAA was ... oh ... Never mind.