Tighter control exercised over religious information

Hospital registers’ clergy members

With Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance and post-Sept. 11 security concerns in mind, Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus has revamped its policies and procedures regarding the release of information on patients’ religious preferences, says Shannon Haager, assistant director of patient access services.

"We wanted to make sure that the people asking for a certain religious census were actually from a legitimate religion," she adds, "that it wasn’t just whatever person today wanted to see a list of all the Jewish patients in the hospital. In the wake of 9/11, perhaps we’re being a little more cautious."

As various operational issues have been reevaluated in recent months, it always has been with an awareness of HIPAA requirements, she says. While in the past, "anyone could call over the phone and say, I need to know who are the Catholic patients,’" and have someone read the list to them, that no longer is the case, Haager explains.

All requests for such information must go through the pastoral care office, she says, and members of the clergy who wish to access patient information must register with that office. "The process is centralized; we control who the information is given to, and we definitely know what the patient’s wishes are."

It was important, Haager points out, to allow patients to opt out of being on a list given to local clergy, while at the same time recording their religious affiliation with the hospital in case counseling or other pastoral services are desired at some point.

"Our pastoral staff was very interested," she adds. "If called in, they wanted to be able to have, for example, the Lutheran Book of Prayer, if that was appropriate. They want to know who they’re working with."

Although a field for opting out of the religious census had to be added to the hospital’s admission/discharge/transfer (ADT) system, Haager notes, there already was a "no-release-of-information" field for patients who don’t want their presence in the hospital known.

"We have a state prison contract, so we’re used to checking for release [of information]," she says. "We’re just adding another level of awareness, another patient population." The struggle, she adds, has been in making sure the information goes out to the different people who need it.

Switchboard operators, who are not on the ADT system, need the information, she says, as do personnel at the patient information desk. Although the latter are on the ADT system, they might be able to view, for example, the patient name and room number, but not the facility directory information, Haager explains.

Requests for patient health information, which in the past might have been answered by various access employees, she adds, now are directed to the medical records department. This includes calls from insurance companies asking for details of patients’ medical conditions, Haager says.

Centralizing this process "gets the person answering the phone off the hook of feeling they are not being helpful and might do something that is bad for the patient either way," she notes. "In the past, they’ve been caught in the middle. Now the callers understand why we’re doing this. They understand the rules we’re operating under."

(Editor’s note: Shannon Haager can be reached at haager-1@medctr.osu.edu.)

Need More Information?
  • Marne Bonomo, PhD, regional director, patient access, Aurora HealthCare, Milwaukee. E-mail: marne.bonomo@aurora.com.
  • Anthony Bruno, MPA, Med, director, patient access and business operations, Presbyterian Medical Center, Philadelphia. Telephone: (215) 662-9297. E-mail: anthony.bruno@uphs.upenn.edu.
  • Joe Denney, CHAM, director, department of access and revenue cycle management, Ohio State University Health System, Columbus, OH. E-mail: denney-1@medctr.osu.edu.
  • Liz Kehrer, CHAM, system administrator, patient access, Centegra Health System, McHenry, IL. E-mail: lkehrer@centegra.com.

In addition, more information about Houston-based Healthlink is available at www.healthlinkinc.com or by calling (800) 223-8956.