When your friend or a family member enters a nursing home, it's important to make sure the home's staff is providing your loved one with an appropriate level of care. Most nursing home patients' medical information is legally safeguarded, meaning you can't simply call up a nursing home and ask for details as to your loved one's state of health. However, there are ways to find out how a patient is doing in an assisted living facility.
HIPAA in Nursing Homes
HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, legally prohibits health care providers from disclosing information on medical records in an attempt to protect medical patients' privacy. This law applies to nursing homes, as well, though there are some exceptions. For example, a caregiver can disclose details about a patient's health in the case of health research, suspected abuse or communicable disease.
Still, you should be able to find out at least a few details about a nursing home's resident. An assisted living facility can keep a directory of its residents, for instance, that includes information on your loved one's location, condition (excluding specific medical information) and religious affiliation. If the information you need is as simple as that, you should be able to contact the nursing home and request it.
Nursing homes are permitted to disclose some protected health information if they give the patient advanced notice of the disclosure, allowing the patient time to object to it. In emergency situations, the home can disclose protected health information without giving advanced notice, as long as it's in the best interest of the patient. In these situations, when the patient is incapacitated, nursing homes may usually rely on the emergency circumstances exception to disclose protected health information to a patient's family members.
Asking the Right Questions
Perhaps you're more interested in learning about your loved one's day-to-day life in the nursing home, rather than information from their medical record. This requires a bit more strategy, as you'll want to make sure you're asking the right people the right questions to find the information you're looking for. Start with your loved one, asking him or her a few questions about what it's like to live in the home.
What's her comfort level? Is she worried about anything? How safe and respected does she feel on a daily basis? How responsive is the nursing staff when your loved one requests help? What's her opinion on the staff in general? Ask these types of questions to get a feel for how your friend or family member is fitting in at the assisted living facility and the type of care she's receiving.
Next, turn to a member of staff at the home with a list of questions prepared about your loved one's daily routine. When does he wake up? What does he eat, and how are the meals prepared? Is he taking his medication appropriately? Are there any consistent problems, and if so, how are they being addressed? Is he exercising and socializing?
These interviews won't provide any specific medical information, but they might help put you at ease ‒ or raise some red flags ‒ about the quality of life at your loved one's nursing home.
Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She covers topics including environment, education, agriculture, travel, immigration and religion. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University. Swanston is an avid traveler and loves jazz, yoga and craft beer.