HR Strange But True!
April 21, 2003

We all know that HR is never boring, but sometimes it can get downright strange...

Even in church, you can't escape HIPAA

Now that handlers of individuals' health-care information have to meet strict new privacy standards under HIPAA, we're finding out how far-reaching the law can be.

In Pike County, Illinois, where many churches prepare prayer lists and organize telephone prayer chains for those with health problems, HIPAA has altered dramatically the way in which those lists and chains are conducted, according to

The law doesn't apply directly to churches, yet "there is a significant indirect effect on preachers," said the Rev. David Schultz, directing pastor of the Bright Star United Methodist Parish. "For example, if we want to retain the ability to visit our parishioners in the hospital, we must abide by hospital regulations such as HIPAA."

That means chaplains must go to the local hospital's registration office for a list of patients who've elected to allow clergy visits. Patients may also opt to receive no visits or only visits from certain clergy members.

At the First Christian Church, prayer lists and chains used to include health information on those for whom prayers were offered. HIPAA has changed that. Helen Earls, program coordinator at the church, said the printed prayer lists prepared by the church now list only the names of those who have given permission to list their names, either personally or by a member of the person's immediate family.

"We need to have permission to list their names," Earls told "If we have further permission, we can give other details over the phone but not in our printed bulletins." But sometimes, members of the congregation offer a prayer request with additional information that may or may not have the person's permission. In those cases, Earls said, the church would hear the information but would not pass it along without further permission.

While parishioners in the pews may not be subject to HIPAA regulations, the Rev. Schultz said it is in everyone's best interest for parishioners to abide by the spirit of HIPAA and ask permission before offering a name for a prayer request. "Prayer requests generate more gossip than anyone can imagine," Schultz said. "That doesn't reflect well on the kingdom of God."

Source:, of Pike County, Illinois

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