Patient's Right to Visitation

Health Care and Life Sciences   |   January 14, 2011

On January 18, 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) revised the hospital conditions of participation to add a patient right to visitors. Now, patients (or their support person) have the right to choose who may and may not visit regardless of whether the visitor meets the traditional definition of family member. CMS makes it clear that the rule is intended to include domestic partners (including same-sex partners) and friends of the patient.

In the event the patient is unable to designate who can visit, the patient's support person is authorized to do so. CMS defines "support person" broadly and states it may be a "family member, friend or other individual who supports the patient during his or her hospital stay and may exercise the patient's visitation rights on his or her behalf."

The rule requires all Medicare participating hospitals to have written policies and procedures regarding visitation rights. Under the rule hospitals must:

  • inform patient (or their support person) of their right to have visitors regardless of their legal relationship to the patient and of any restrictions or limitations to those rights;
  • inform patients (or their support person) of the right to receive or refuse visitors;
  • not restrict or limit visiting privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability; and
  • ensure that all visitors enjoy full and equal visitation privileges.

As with other patient rights, patients (or their support person) must be provided written notice of the visitation rights before the start of care whenever possible.

However, the right to visitation is not unlimited and whenever clinically appropriate and reasonably necessary, hospitals may still restrict or limit visitors. But, CMS strongly encourages hospitals to be sensitive to the needs of patients and states that hospital policies should be flexible enough to balance the dual needs of ensuring patient safety and ensuring patient access to loved ones.

Source: Florida Healthcare Association Newsletter (January 14, 2011).

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