How to Check Hospitals for Missing Persons

by Jayne Thompson ; Updated March 15, 2018

When a loved one goes missing, it can create a lot of anxiety. No one wants to discover that a relative or friend has been in an accident or has suddenly become ill, but a hospital is one of the places where you might find your missing person. Unfortunately, no central database of hospital admissions records exists. You likely will have to call several hospitals about the person you are looking for. Be aware, too, that hospitals will not communicate any patient information if the patient does not want them to, or if the hospital's policies prevent them from disclosing this type of information.


  • Find a missing person in a hospital by calling or visiting all the hospitals and mental health units in the local area.

Search Hospitals in the Area

Find out where the person was last seen or heard of, including any known residences, workplaces and travel routes. Look online or in the Yellow Pages to find public and private hospitals within your search area. Create a list of hospitals and their contact details. It's a good idea to include psychiatric units if you think it may be relevant.

Call the Hospital

Call the first hospital on your list and ask for the missing person by name. You may have to talk to multiple departments that may be relevant, such as the geriatric unit or the psychiatric ward. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, hospitals are permitted to tell you if someone is a patient at the facility if you ask for that person by name, unless the patient instructs the hospital not to reveal this information.

Ask About John Doe Patients

If your loved one is not listed as a patient, ask if the hospital has admitted someone who lacked identification when they were admitted. These patients will be listed as "John Doe" or "Jane Doe." Give a detailed description of your missing person such as their age, height, build, ethnic appearance, eye color, and distinctive features such as tattoos, scars and birthmarks. Ask the staff to check if the John or Jane Doe resembles this description.

Visit the Hospital

Visit a hospital with John Doe patients who match the description of your missing person, and take a photograph of the missing person with you. A photo makes it easier to compare whether a patient in the hospital's care is the person you are looking for. Also bring personal identification that shows your relationship to the missing person. Per HIPAA privacy rules, the hospital may share information only with a close relative or friend of the patient if it is in the patient's best interest to do so.

Repeat for Each Facility on Your List

Repeat the above steps for each hospital on your list. This may be a time-consuming exercise, especially if lots of facilities are in the local area, so ask others to help. If your inquiries don't turn up any information, find a missing person in hospital by expanding your search radius, or consider other options for tracking down your loved one, such as notifying the police or hiring a private investigator.

About the Author

A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.