August 5, 2013

Do hospital visiting practices line up with the law?

Daily Briefing

Many hospitals' websites outline restrictive patient visitation rights that may be inconsistent with federal and state laws allowing patients to choose their visitors, according to a new report.

The federal government changed regulations governing patient visitations in November 2010, after a landmark 2010 case involving a Florida hospital that prevented a woman from seeing her dying partner because the lesbian couple was not considered "family." Now, regulations allow hospital patients to select acceptable visitors, whether they are a family member, spouse, domestic partner, or friend.

Report:

The new report on visitation policies was released by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), New Yorkers for Patient & Family Empowerment (NYPFE), and Lambda Legal.

In August 2012, the groups reviewed 99 New York hospitals with 200 or more beds and found that only 10 of the hospitals had posted patient visitation rights on their websites that complied with state and federal laws. The group sent the remaining hospitals letters asking them to update their information, and 36 of them updated their websites accordingly.

For the most recent report, the group reviewed the same 99 hospitals' websites and found that:

  • 17 hospitals advertised restrictive patient visitation policies that are in direct conflict with laws;
  • 36 provided information on the patients' right to choose; and
  • 46 failed to provide enough information on patient visitation rights.

From 2012 to 2013, the groups found a nearly 70% increase in New York hospitals advertising complete and correct patient visitation information.

Why it's important for websites to have the right information

"Every patient should have someone with them to help them through the process," said NYPFE Executive Director Suzanne Mattei. She added that traditionally "once you get into a cardiac-care unit or an intensive-care unit, the hospital might say 'immediate family only,'" but "[f]or many people, that's not appropriate."

Some of the hospitals that the researchers contacted said that they provide patients with the correct information when they are admitted, but conflicting information on a website could cause confusion or deter visitors, according to Russ Haven, legislative counsel for NYPIRG.

"In many cases in the 21st century, websites are the go-to place for information," Haven said, adding, "[V]isitors might self-regulate if it looks to be a restriction that applies to them" (Bakeman, USA Today, 8/1; Peak, Long Island Newsday, 8/1; Lambda Legal et al. report, August 2013).

More from today's Daily Briefing
  1. Current ArticleDo hospital visiting practices line up with the law?

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