About AHCJ: General News

Health reporters take stand against hospital confidentiality agreements Date: 04/17/08

Right to Know logo

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Concerned by incidents in which hospitals have attempted to restrict newsgathering, the Association of Health Care Journalists strongly urges reporters to resist signing confidentiality agreements with hospitals.

Confidentiality agreements typically aim to bar journalists from disclosing information they discover in the course of reporting at a facility, unless they obtain the hospital's approval.

Reporters should be extremely reluctant to sign a confidentiality agreement with any source. Confidentiality agreements pose a danger of restricting coverage and eroding trust between journalists and the public.

Reporters should:

  • Reject agreements that would preclude them from reporting legitimate news stories, including stories they discover inadvertently in the course of reporting on a different topic.

  • Reject agreements that give hospitals the right to review a story before it is published or broadcast.

  • Refrain from signing a confidentiality agreement if the story is not significant enough to offset a potential erosion of public trust or if there is another way to get the story.

  • Refrain from signing an agreement that has not been examined by a news organization's editorial leadership and legal staff.

  • Refrain from signing an agreement limiting their ability to cover the quality of care or the business operations of hospitals.

  • Remember that HIPAA does not bar a reporter from obtaining an individual's health information directly from that individual, family members or other people who are not health-care providers or health plans.

  • Realize it is the hospital's responsibility under HIPAA, not the reporter's, to have the patient sign an authorization form if the hospital is releasing that patient's information.

AHCJ plans to expose attempts by hospitals to have reporters sign inappropriate agreements by collecting and posting these agreements at healthjournalism.org.

AHCJ is an independent, nonprofit membership organization of more than 1,000 health reporters and editors across the United States and in 20 other nations. Along with its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, it is dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues and improving the quality, accuracy and visibility of health reporting, writing and editing.

More information about reporters and medical privacy issues can be found on AHCJ's Web site.