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Have You Been A Patient in a Hospital Lately? You May Now Be on the Their Marketing List for Fundraisers

Posted May 24 2010 1:24pm

Additional more joys of hospital use of data and while this is not bad as they are looking for donations, there’s just something that is a bit irritating, especially if you are a patient who’s in the process of battling your insurance company over what they covered on your hospital visit. 

If I were in “that” position, the last call I would want is one asking for donations, as I gave on the way in.   image

This not against HIPAA requirements either as the solicitors are given a very limited list of information, that need to make contact and nothing about any medical conditions, etc.  That is a data processing algorithm that can be done easily, I have done lots of data extraction and compiling information as such, and it’s not much effort to supply a list to tele marketers or create a mailing list to solicit donations.  The hospital can’t sell you anything, but they can certainly ask for charitable donations. 

As mentioned, some hospitals will let you opt out and perhaps next time when you are admitted that may be another box to check when you are in pain and just want your care, as everything is a “disclosure” issue today.  BD

When Steve Finn got a call on his unlisted telephone number from the University of Washington Medical Center seeking a donation, he was perplexed.

How on earth did the caller get his name and number?

Finn, a 62-year-old retired CPA who lives on Queen Anne Hill, a one-time patient at the UW, knew that a broad federal law known as HIPAA protects patient privacy. So he was astounded when the caller told him the information had come from patient records.

It seemed logical to Finn that the law, which bars patient information from being used for commercial purposes, would also bar its use for fundraising. He also wanted to know: What did the caller know about him? Was the caller a "qualified health professional" entitled to his information under the law?

And how could he get off the list?

In fact, HIPAA specifically allows medical centers to use patient information for fundraising activities, explained Richard Meeks, director of the UW's privacy program.

Information about diagnosis or treatment is off-limits, but federal and state laws allow hospitals, in most cases, to use a patient's name, address, contact information, dates of hospital service, gender, age and insurance status in fundraising efforts.

Despite being legal, the practice, widely used by other nonprofit hospitals here and across the country, has raised eyebrows before.

McGinly, of the philanthropy association, said health-care fundraising is not a commercial use of patient information. The list of prospective donors is used only by hospitals — almost all nonprofit — to raise money for themselves, and is never traded or sold.

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