Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Keeping your dark secret from your preacher

Preachers are often called upon to keep confidential their counseling conversations with the congregation. Many pastors who have been in the ministry for years have come to learn some deep, dark secrets of members that we must take to our graves. But thanks to HIPAA, one of the secrets we used to find out about has been hidden. I'm talking about the real first names of church members.

You see, hospitals list patients by the name that is on their insurance, not by the name their family and friends call them. In the old days, the preacher could look at the list of patients at the information desk, and find out, for example, that John Smith was actually Orville J. Smith. Of course, John didn't like to use the name "Orville" and would beg the preacher to keep it a secret. Going to visit "Bubba"? No problem, you could just ask for his last name and find him. But then along came HIPAA.

HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law that protects the privacy of hospital patients and wreaks havoc on the hospital visitation ministry of pastors. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to refuse the release of any information to anybody, including their own pastors. And under HIPAA, anybody inquiring about a patient must give the correct name of the patient-- even if the patient doesn't go by that name.

So now when the preacher goes to the hospital and asks for John Smith, the lady at the information desk looks down at "Orville J. Smith" on her computer screen, and then looks up at the preacher with a smirk and says, "I'm sorry, we don't have anybody by that name." The preacher can beg and plead and promise to do a wedding for her son for free, but she will just say, "Have you ever heard of HIPAA? I can't release that information unless you can give me the correct name."

I must admit, we preachers had it coming. After all, for years we have abused that privileged information, barging into the hospital room and loudly asking, "How are you feeling Orville?" as John (a.k.a. Orville) hides under his sheets in embarrassment. But no more. Now, only God and your doctor have to know your real first name.

So now Beatrice and Herman can keep their secrets, if they so desire. (No offense if you like those names, it's just that Beatrice fell from #44 to #982 among popular baby names in the past century, while Herman fell from #45 to #974). The preacher never has to know. That is, unless they want him to come pray before their next knee surgery.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

2 comments:

Ashley said...

Hipaa does more than protect your "name". If someone tests positive for a disease, why should that information be available for everyone? Health is a private matter and it only makes sense to have it protected. Hippa is a great act and we should feel privileged to live in a place where its taken seriously.

Dr. Bob Rogers said...

Smiley, Ashley! Just having a little fun with it. I'm glad for patients to have privacy. It just gets silly when patients want a visit from their pastor, and the pastor cannot get the room number because they don't know the person's real first name, even though they know the patient's nick name, age, street address, and what pew they sit on.