General access to hospitals

The American Hospital Association has guidelines for its members on how to respond to media requests generally. Journalists need to know what hospitals are being told but should note that the association's guidelines may be more restrictive than the law requires. The guidelines include:

Access to patients' rooms

Hospitals should not give out a patient's room number without the patient's permission.

Direct contact with patients

Hospitals should not allow reporters to contact patients directly. A representative of the patient should handle media calls. The hospital should deny media access to a patient if the hospital thinks it would interfere with the patient's care.

Inside of the hospital

Hospital staff should always accompany reporters when they are inside the hospital. The staff can deny access to any area they believe patients have an expectation of privacy, including the emergency room, intensive care units and nurseries.

Photographs and interviews

Both photographs and interviews require written consent of the patient. Background photos taken in public spaces are not addressed directly by HIPAA, but in general the hospital cannot release identifiable photos without patient permission. Hospital staff, rather then reporters, should approach people for permission.

Directory information when a patient has opted out

Patients can elect to not have their information included in the hospital directory, or have their information listed but not available to the press. If the patient does not want information given to the press, the hospital should ask the relationship to the patient of anyone who is calling for a condition report.

If a patient has opted out of the directory, the hospital should not respond with that information because it would disclose the patient's presence. The AHA recommends saying, "Federal medical privacy regulations allow the hospital to release to the media only information in the hospital's directory" and "the hospital does not have any information about the person in its directory."