New Law Guards Patient Privacy

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What a difference a weekend makes. On Friday, clergy members, family friends or co-workers were able to call hospitals and get information about their loved ones.

Getting that information has now become more difficult under patient privacy rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The full act was passed in 1996, but the rules pertaining to a patient's privacy and medical records officially went into effect Monday.

Now patients can decide whether or not their names can be included on hospital directory lists.

If patients opt out, or are unable to give consent, the hospital can't release anything about them. And even if a patient does agree, hospitals can only release one-word descriptions about their conditions, such as: stable, fair or critical.

Also, callers seeking information must have the patient's first and last

Officials from local hospitals say they have spent months preparing to comply with the act and haven't experienced any major problems from the new rules so far.