Monday, August 9, 2010

Our View - Admission isn't time to hit up patients for $$

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 4, 2009

Our View - Admission isn't time to hit up patients for $$

So it turns out other hospitals across the nation have been seeking donations from patients as a way of increasing revenue. And some hospital association folks say hitting up patients for donations is on its way to becoming an industry standard.

Well -- even if every other hospital in the national already had such a program in place -- we'd still be glad to hear that officials at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are rethinking the donation program they had been hoping to begin this winter.

UI officials announced Tuesday that they were pushing back plans to implement a program that asks outpatients to sign a consent form at check-in so the UI Foundation can contact them about contributing to medical research. Because of the privacy rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the hospital cannot release a patient's information to the Foundation without the patient's permission.

UI said the plans are modeled after similar programs at other hospitals around the country, including University of Michigan Health System, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. Patients would be giving permission to release the names of their doctors, their clinics and their hospital identification number, but no personal diagnostic or medical treatment information would be disclosed.

The announcement came after a number of state legislators -- including Reps. Wayne Ford (D-Des Moines), Dave Jacoby (D-Coralville) and Jeff Kaufmann (R-Wilton) and Sen. Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville) -- expressed their disapproval of the hospital making any effort to hit up patients at such a vulnerable time in their treatment.

"This seems like it is a little coercive, and I don't think we'd want to be doing that," Dvorsky said. "I think the UI Foundation and UIHC do a great job, but I think they are in dangerous waters here."

Kaufmann likewise described the program as "tacky."

And while the other model hospitals do solicit donations from patients, only Cleveland does so at the point of admission. Michigan's nine-month-old program instead uses demographic data -- which complies with HIPAA -- to contact patients with a mix of brochures, mailings, phone calls and event invites.

"Think about how you would like to be treated," said Jim Thomas, associate vice president for development and alumni relations at Michigan. "Would you like to be handed an envelope for giving as soon as you walk in?"

The answer to Thomas's question, of course, is "No." We don't have a problem with the hospital eventually asking some former patients to show their generosity, but those requests must not come at the point of admission, check-out or any other time in which patients are preoccupied by other medical and financial worries.

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