HIPAA: Fewer First Baby of the Year Announcements

January 1 normally sees many announcements from hospitals around the country advising the public of the first babies to be born in the New Year; however 2015 has seen less hospitals opting to make the announcements.

Many healthcare suppliers have made the decision not to release details of newborn New Year’s babies and have extended the Health Portability and Insurance Act to include announcements of new births.

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

Community Health Systems, sufferer of a major HIPAA security breach in 2014 exposing 4.5 million patient records, operates 207 hospitals around the country. It is exercising extreme caution and has issued guidance to its hospital administrators advising them to refrain from making public announcements of the first baby born in 2015, citing security worries. 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 afraid that any announcements could potentially breach HIPAA Privacy Rules and many have taken the advice of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) which has labelled the practice of hospital birth announcements as unsafe. It recommends letting the parents choose when they want to make the announcement and for controls to be put into place when online announcements are made to ensure parents can retain a measure of control; such as password protecting the information to control access.

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

Not all healthcare providers have given up the New Year tradition and a number of hospitals have made New Year first baby announcements. Some have received written authorization from the parents prior to releasing the news while others have controlled the information released and kept it to a name and an initial or the baby’s full name only.