Hospitals struggle to implement visitation policies

A year after Medicare and The Joint Commission rules on visitation rights went into effect, many hospitals are still struggling to meet regulations that allow patients to choose who visits them regardless of whether the visitor is a family member, spouse, domestic partner or any other visitor.

Nonprofit consumer group New Yorkers for Patient and Family Empowerment and advocacy researcher the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) released a report yesterday and found that hospitals varied widely on how they are complying.

In a study of about 100 New York hospitals with more than 200 beds, researchers found "disturbing flaws in communication that run afoul of new state and federal regulations on the right of patients to have visitors," the Albany Times Union reported.

Out of 99 hospitals, only four received a perfect 10 score (Glen Cove Hospital in Nassau County, Northern Westchester Hospital, Saint Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse and Saint Peter's Hospital in Albany) for general visiting hours, availability and website notices, the Ithaca Journal reported.

Although typically associated with rights for same-sex couples, the CMS rule that went into effect January 2011 and The Joint Commission regulations, effective July 2011, had broad implications for all types of visitors, which allowed patients to choose their visitors and representatives.

The report found hospital rules on underage visitors varied widely with little "rhyme or reason," NYPIRG said in a statement. Forty-three of the hospitals surveyed prohibit or strongly discourage visitation by children.

More than a quarter (26 percent) of hospital websites contradict the requirements, in which their websites limit certain visitation to "immediate family," "close family," "family" or a "significant other," the Ithaca Journal noted.

The report suggested hospitals use their websites as a way of communicating evidence-based visitation policies, as well as offering flexible hours.

The American Health Lawyers Association and the Human Rights Campaign in April released an issue brief, offering guidance for hospitals and critical care hospitals to meet visitation requirements.

For more information:
- read the Ithaca Journal article
- read the Times Union article
- read the announcement from the New York Public Interest Research Group
- check out the NY report (.pdf)
- see the CMS November 2010 announcement

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