UIHC to begin indirectly soliciting patients

BY SAM LANE | NOVEMBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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The concept of patients as philanthropists has raised questions at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.
The hospital, along with the UI Foundation, is training some faculty and staff members to seek patients’ consent to receive information about donations and gifts.

“The foundation is asking patients to support the hospital in a philanthropic manner,” UIHC spokesman Tom Moore said. “There’s no coercion. They’re just inviting them to consider [donation].”

Upon arriving at outpatient or ambulatory-care clinics, individuals receive letters with a message from Jean Robillard, UI vice president for Medical Affairs.

“Your permission will allow us to inform you about how UI research and education lead to more effective health care for patients here and throughout the world,” the letter reads.

The letter also outlines the hospital’s use of financial gifts and asks patients to sign an attached form giving the UI Foundation permission to contact the patient regarding a possible donation.

Some UIHC receptionists and nurses who deal directly with patients are trained to hand out the forms, answer patient questions, and collect contact information. A number of receptionists and doctors declined to comment on the initiative.

Those opposed to the measure have been vocal about it.

“Many people would perceive the request as one which might mean that if they said no, the kind of care they receive would be less than they otherwise would,” said UI law Professor Sheldon Kurtz.

Hospital officials said the doctors will not know whether patients give their information or not.

Not every patient will receive the letter. Those with Medicaid or IowaCare coverage do not receive the information, something Kurtz feels causes the staff to wrongly distinguish between patients. Medicaid and IowaCare typically cover lower-income individuals.

Still, Moore said, there is no pressure to donate. He outlined a hypothetical patient situation under the program: a patient who is treated at the UIHC for a corneal disease may be asked if he or she has considered donating to the eye clinic.

The exchange allows for “open conversation,” Moore said. The program is “standard procedure” at hospitals across the nation, he contended.

For now, faculty and staff members are still in the training phase. While the letters have yet to reach patients, some officials noted they are responding to financial need.

“UI Hospitals and Clinics and the UI Carver College of Medicine rely increasingly on private gifts from alumni, patients, and friends,” Susan Shullaw, a UI Foundation senior vice president, wrote in an e-mail. “This program will enable patients who may be interested in supporting UI Health Care through philanthropy to self-identify.”

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