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Fewer First Baby of the Year Announcements due to HIPAA

The first of January traditionally sees a flurry of announcements from hospitals around the country advising the public of the first babies to be born in the New Year; however 2015 has seen fewer hospitals making the announcements. Many healthcare providers have made the decision not to reveal details of newborn New Year’s babies and have extended the Health Portability and Insurance Act to include birth announcements.

While the announcements may not have been made public, many have still celebrated the tradition internally, and in doing so, have mitigated any security risks that could result from the disclosure of personal information.

Community Health Systems, sufferer of a major HIPAA security breach last year exposing 4.5 million patient records, operates 207 hospitals the length and breadth of the country. It is exercising extreme caution and has issued directions to its hospital administrators advising them to refrain from making public announcements of the first baby of 2015, citing security concerns. CHS Spokesperson, Tomi Galin, told the Associated Press “We know the birth of the New Year baby is a joyous and exciting event, but protecting patient safety and privacy is our most important responsibility.”

Many healthcare providers are fearful that any announcements could potentially violate HIPAA Privacy Rules and many have taken the advice of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) which has called the practice of hospital birth announcements into question. It recommends letting the parents decide and choose when they want to make the announcement and for controls to be employed when online announcements are made to ensure parents can retain a degree of control; such as password protecting the information to control access.

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The reasoning behind the increased need for security is that birth announcements could potentially be used by baby snatchers, and should at the very least be kept private until the parents and baby have been discharged from the hospital. In any case, NCMEC recommends that any hospital making an announcement should restrict the information released and not reveal addresses, full names or any personally identifiable information.

Not all healthcare providers have abandoned the New Year tradition and a number of hospitals have made New Year first baby announcements. Some have obtained written authorization from the parents prior to announcing the news while others have restricted the information they release to a name and an initial or the baby’s full name only.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.