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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2014

‘Call me Ishmael’ — A word about HIPPA

By JAMES ROTH, pastor, New London United Methodist Church | Apr 05, 2013

“Call Me Ishmael” — So opens the classic maritime whaling novel “Moby Dick,” one of the inspirations for discussing HIPAA’s Privacy Rule (which celebrates its golden birthday on April 10).

Years ago (perhaps one, two, or more generations back), it was the norm and expectation for clergy to “make the rounds” each week to visit patients at the local hospital.

A parson (pastor or rabbi or priest or lay minister) would stop by the information desk and ask if there were any patients from his/her parish and community at large.

If it was after hours with no greeter/receptionist present, the clergy could peruse the listing on their own, and then proceed with “making the rounds” for spiritual care visits in the patients’ rooms.

But this does not (and cannot) happen anymore, for several reasons. There are fewer and fewer overnight or extended stays at hospitals these days, due to a combination of improvements in health care and limitations of medical insurance coverage.

There no longer is one main nearby hospital where just about everybody goes to for health care treatment. Instead, there is a regional hospital network spread out in several cities (to minimize redundancy and to maximize resources).

However, a more important factor is patient privacy considerations.

By April 10, 2003, health care providers were required to comply with the Privacy Rule features of the Act of Congress called HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

Under those provisions, patients and their families get to decide if their name, room number, phone number, condition and any other Protected Health Information (PHI) is made available to visitors, including those from their faith family.

Implementation of this rule has meant that hospitals no longer provide a listing of patients. Instead, a caller (in person or by phone) has to ask specifically for a patient by name.

This is where that quotation “Call Me Ishmael” comes into play. Clergy persons and parsons of all kinds treasure calling on (and praying for) members of their flock at hospitals, homes and care centers, as part of their calling from God includes the ministry of visitation and care of the sick.

So this then not only is a friendly reminder about HIPAA, its Privacy Rule, and PHI, this is an encouragement to inform your faith family’s leadership team whenever yourself or your loved one is hospitalized, for prayer and follow-up care (including visits if they would be desired or appreciated, there at the hospital or elsewhere during recovery and rehab).

Likewise, please make known your wishes as to whether or not you would want the prayers expressed openly (such as voiced during a public worship service or printed/posted in a service bulletin, newsletter or bulletin board).

We opened with a brief quotation from a classic novel; let us now close with a scriptural quotation from another Good Book (better known as The Holy Bible):

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the Name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” — James 14-16 (NRSV)

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