The Des Moines Register‘s Clark Kauffman opens his investigative report with a simple observation: “University of Iowa Hospitals is giving patient names and specific patient-treatment information to a fundraising organization that solicits donations through written appeals signed by physicians.” Then he backs it up.
Kauffman reports that while universities deny that the practice is questionable, “Patient advocates … say the fundraising seeks to take financial advantage of patients who feel indebted to their doctors for their medical treatment.”
“If people actually knew this sort of thing was going on, there would be a significant number of them disturbed by it,” said Dr. Michael Carome of Public Citizen, a national advocacy group with 80,000 members. “The fundamental practice is exploitative … and in my view there is no way to make this work in a way that would be ethical.”
Hospital spokesman Tom Moore said the fundraising campaign is legal and “completely ethical.” He said the university looked at “best practices” among its peers, and its fundraising practices are in line with those of other hospitals.
Kauffman found that, apparently, these “best practices” include sharing patient contact information, insurance status and appointment schedules with donors without their consent. It also includes routinely seeking patient permission to disclose more specific medical information. And the information flows the other way too, with doctors being notified if one of their upcoming patients is a major donor. Kauffman’s piece describes a fascinating hidden economy.