No matter how people consume their news, one thing is certain: we are interested in articles that relate to our lives. Human interest stories evoke emotion and curiosity, inspiring people to continue reading. In health care, a human-interest story can be especially engaging as it helps to take a complex subject out of the context of science and relate it to the experience of everyman.

Using this type of story as a hook to gain media coverage for a client who treats patients for anything from addiction to Zika you must be wary of compliance rules. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created to improve health insurance continuity and access to care as well as protect patients. The HIPAA Privacy Rule is the most important part for health care providers dealing with the news media. Ignorance of this rule can have legal implications for a company.

However, this doesn’t mean that human interest stories are out of the question for health care providers, but that you must familiarize yourself with HIPAA before coordinating interviews. By following these simple guidelines, you’ll be able to get the story and, more importantly, protect patient rights.

  1. Patients—Even if a patient verbally agrees to be the subject of a media interview, healthcare providers need to get their consent in writing and other authorization forms for any Protected Healthcare Information (PHI).
  2. Facility—Journalists will not usually sign HIPAA compliance forms so if they are touring a facility, patients should be made aware of the situation. It is not up to the provider to prevent media from entering public areas of the facility. However, safeguards should be in place to limit any prohibited information disclosures in the event of media tours of the facility.
  3. Staff—All employees, from executive teams to assistants, should be aware of these laws and protocols as well as the details of the requirements as some states have a stricter standard of what qualifies as PHI.

HIPAA is not here to make life more difficult, it’s here to protect patients, their families and providers. If you are asking patients to tell their story, essentially promoting their place of treatment, all they want in return is respect.