Understanding Hospital Media Policies

Hospitals and health systems are responsible for protecting the privacy and confidentiality of their patients and patient information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) mandates regulations that govern privacy standards for healthcare information. For more information, please see Healthcare Association of New York State's Guide to Hospital Public and Media Relations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Upon admission, Stony Brook University Medical Center provides all patients an option regarding inclusion in the patient directory as required by Federal law. Patients are asked in the admission/registration process if they would like to opt out of the facility patient directory.

  • If a patient chooses to opt out of the directory, no patient condition can be provided.
  • If a patient chooses not to opt out of the directory, only a one-word condition will be provided when the condition of an individual is requested, if the correct first and last name is provided by the media agency.
  • Patients must give written permission to be interviewed, photographed or for issuing written statements about his/her condition.

Patient Condition
For the one-word condition, Stony Brook University Hospital uses the American Medical Association-approved terms:

Undetermined - Patient is awaiting physician and/or assessment.
Good - Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.
Fair - Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious, but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.
Serious - Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.
Critical - Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.
No information - When no information is available through the patient directory, the response, "no information," is issued.

Clinicians find the "critical but stable" term useful when discussing cases amongst themselves because it helps them differentiate patients who are expected to recover from those whose prognosis is worse. However, a critical condition means that at least some vital signs are unstable, so this is inherently contradictory. The term "stable" should not be used as a condition. Furthermore, this term should not be used in combination with other conditions, which by definition, often indicate a patient is unstable.

Deceased/Coroner's Cases
The death of a patient is considered protected health information under HIPAA. Thus, the condition of death may be released for expired patients who have not opted out of the directory. However, hospitals are advised to first notify the next of kin or make a reasonable attempt to do so. Information regarding the cause of death must come from the patient's physician, and its release must be approved by a legal representative of the deceased.

When a death is investigated by the county coroner, questions about the cause of death should be addressed to that public office. The coroner's office may also have information about which funeral home is handling arrangements for the deceased.

Special Cases
The victims of an assault or other crimes are listed under "protective status" conditions will not be included in the hospital's patient directory, for the protection of the patient and others in the hospital. The Office of Media Relations cannot provide any information pertaining to patient condition, or even confirm the patient is in the hospital. Other patients, celebrities for instance, may opt not to be listed in the patient directory.

Law prohibits Media Relations from releasing any information to the news media about psychiatric or substance abuse patients. Also, no statement may be made pertaining to whether a patient has a sexually transmitted or communicable disease, or is a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.

Stony Brook University Medical Center requires all patients to sign a consent form before agreeing to being photographed, videotaped or interviewed by the news media or by an in-house photographer if the photograph is to be shown to the general public. The Media Relations representative will secure the signed release before any photography or videotaping begins. This consent form has three copies; one for the patient, one for media relations' files and one for the patient's medical record.

News Crews
To protect patient privacy, there is a Stony Brook University Hospital policy that any working news reporter or photographer must be accompanied by a Media Relations representative when they are in the hospital.

To reach a member of the Stony Brook University Medical Center Media Relations staff, please call 631.444.7880 during normal business hours or contact central paging at 631.689-8333 and ask to have the Media Relations staff person on-call to be paged after hours.

Please Note 
Access to Stony Brook University Medical Center is based on the understanding that members of the news media will adhere to all policies and laws related to patient privacy, including obtaining patient authorization prior to disclosure of patient information. A patient being interviewed has the right, under terms of federal patient privacy regulations, to withdraw consent for press use of his or her identity and protected health information at any time before, during or after the interview.

A patient also may also terminate an interview at any time. In such cases, the news media must immediately end the interview and any related recording or filming of the interview subject. If such a patient also withdraws consent at that time, news media once again may not release protected health information or in any way identify the patient.

Please also note that under federal policies and laws, "protected health information" includes direct or "overheard" conversations between and among caregivers, patients and family members, as well as information contained in medical records. Therefore, while Stony Brook University Medical Center provides reasonable press access to its facilities, if members of the press should overhear or see "protected health information" that is not covered by an authorization they must not use or disclose that information without obtaining a specific authorization for that information.  To keep inadvertent disclosures to a minimum, restrictions in some areas may be imposed and escorts for all news media film crews and still photography are required.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.