What is HIPAA and why can’t hospitals release more information about COVID-19 patients?

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BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — A big concern for people during the COVID-19 pandemic is finding out there are positive cases within their county, and not knowing who the person is. Because of HIPAA Privacy Laws, CEO of Raleigh General Hospital, Matthew Roberts, said they cannot release any patient information.

“The only thing that can really that can be communicated right now is the fact that if there are COVID-19 patients within our community, that can be released either by the hospital where it has occurred or by the health department,” Roberts said. “But nothing related to who that individual is. You have to be very, very careful and protective of all PHI, which is Protective Health Information.”

Roberts said no HIPAA guidelines have changed since the pandemic started. He said they are not releasing names of patients with COVID-19 because anyone who may have come into contact with them will be notified by the health department.

“They’re following up with them and trying to do social tracing and following up with those people to make sure that they are feeling well,” Roberts said.

Even amid all the uncertainty, keeping the patient safe and out of the public eye is their main priority.

“So we do everything possible to protect the patient’s health information and being sensitive to their condition,” Roberts said. “And we do this with all our patients, not just COVID-19, but every single patient that walks into our hospital or any of our doctors offices. There really is no other choice but to be very protective for our patients because it’s the right thing to do.”

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