ALBANY, N.Y. — Some large hospitals' websites in New York include information restricting patient visits to immediate family, even though that is inconsistent with federal and state law, according to a report out Thursday.
Two Rochester and two Westchester County hospitals are among those disseminating information that conflicts with laws that allow a patient to choose who visits, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group and patient advocates report, which reviewed 99 New York hospitals with 200 or more staffed beds.
"Every patient should have someone with them to help them through the process. Traditionally, over the decades, once you get into a cardiac-care unit or an intensive-care unit, the hospital might say 'immediate family only,'" said Suzanne Mattei, executive director of New Yorkers for Patient & Family Empowerment, during a conference call with reporters Thursday. "For many people, that's not appropriate."
The federal government changed regulations regarding patient visits in November 2010 after a woman was denied access to her dying partner of 18 years at a Florida hospital because the lesbian couple was not considered "family."
In July 2012, Mattei's group did a survey of 99 of New York's largest hospitals, checking to see if their websites had been updated to reflect the federal regulations and a corresponding state law. At the time, only 11 hospitals had posted the correct information.
Mattei's group wrote letters to the hospitals asking them to update their websites. Another review late last month showed improvement; 36 of the hospitals have explicitly stated that patients have the right to choose their visitors.
But 17 hospitals still use the restrictive language.
Hospital representatives could not be reached immediately for comment.
Some of the hospitals the groups contacted argued that while their websites were not updated, the facility's procedures are in compliance. The hospitals give information sheets to patients informing them of their right to choose who visits them.
But Russ Haven, legislative counsel for NYPIRG, said the conflicting information on a website could cause confusion or deter visitors.
"In many cases in the 21st century, websites are the go-to place for information," Haven said. "So visitors might self-regulate if it looks to be a restriction that applies to them.
"Mixed messages may be delivered," he added.
Other hospitals in the review did not have restrictive information on their websites but did not adequately explain patients' rights, either, according to the advocates.