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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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What exactly is critical condition?

To follow-up on yesterday’s post about Mary Washington Healthcare providing patient conditions:

A hospital official explained the change by saying that Mary Washington wanted its policy to coincide with the guidelines of the American Hospital Association. So what does the AHA say:

The current AHA guidelines say that hospitals may release the general condition and location of an inpatient, outpatient or emergency department patient if the reporter identifies the patient by name. The hospital does not have to obtain prior consent from the patient, the guidelines say, though the patient can request that the information be withheld.

“No information may be given if a request does not include a specific patient’s name or if the patient requests that the information not be released,” the guidelines say.

The guidelines were revised in 2003 after passage of the federal patient privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

The guidelines also recommend the use of five terms to describe patients’ conditions. They are:

Undetermined- Patient is awaiting assessment.

Good- Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.

Fair- Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.

Serious- Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.

Critical- Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.

The association also says that “treated and released” is acceptable.

Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center also follows the AHA guidelines and uses the one-word descriptors for patient condition, a spokeswoman said this morning.

(The AHA’s guidelines are here. An earlier post on this topic can be found here.)

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