Hospital Privacy Rules Can Be Exasperating

Being confronted with hospital privacy rules while you or a loved one are hospitalized can drive one to distraction, but a little planning may help ease your exasperation.

Recently a friend of mine was hospitalized for a gallbladder procedure. Going to visit her to lift her spirits sounded like a good idea initially, but when I somehow ran afoul of the hospital’s stringent regulations regarding visitors, my best laid plans went awry. After several attempts, I gave up. My grievous error was mentioning her by name to the “wrong” nurse, and in so doing I’d violated my friend’s privacy. The hospital perceived me as a threat, simply because I have a rather loud voice. Later when my friend wondered why I hadn’t gone to visit her, I explained, but my excuse seemed inadequate to say the least.

If you or someone you care about has been hospitalized recently, you’ve discovered that strict rules regarding patient privacy exist at most hospitals. Sometimes bordering on the Kafka-esque, these arbitrary regulations can seem like bureaucracy run amok, and in worst case scenarios, can shut out patients from visitors entirely. Hospital staffers are prohibited from dispensing information about patients to extended family members and friends, if not also to closer relations who may not possess proper identification. A frustrating trap of “Catch-22” can dramatically increase anxiety levels as information about people you care about is kept “confidential,” sometimes for no apparent logical reason except for the hospital’s self-centered liability concerns based upon strict laws regarding privacy.

Getting around strict privacy laws, however, is a doable proposition if you enlist the aid of an Elder Law attorney. A reputable Elder Law firm can suggest options that work and are perfectly legal. A comprehensive Health Care Directive and a signed HIPAA Authorization might be considered admission tickets to visiting your loved one or else a viable way to ensure cooperation of hospital staffers when you need it most. But creating these documents must be accomplished with planning and a bit of finesse, a fait accompli prior to you or your loved one ending up in a hospital.

An estate plan created by an Elder Law attorney would likely include not only financial documents, but also the precise documents needed to honor your wishes pertaining to medical care. If you wait until the hospitalization is upon you, however, your procrastination can leave you at the mercy of hospital staffers who may be sticklers for adhering to the letter of the rules regarding privacy.

Gene Osofsky is an East Bay elder law attorney in California. Gene Osofsky specializes in Medi-Cal planning, wills, probate, trusts, nursing home issues, special needs planning, and disability planning. To learn more about East Bay elder law lawyers, East Bay elder law attorney, Medi-Cal planning, Medi-Cal planning lawyers and The Law Offices of Osofsky & Osofsky, visit