DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Some tactics the University of Iowa Foundation uses to raise money for the university's hospitals are being questioned because patient information is being shared with fundraisers.
Officials with the University of Iowa's hospitals and the foundation defended the way they raise money as ethical.
But patient advocates told the Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/LIZKP8) that the campaign that uses letters signed by doctors appears to be taking advantage of the way people feel about doctors who helped them.
And the foundation hired three fundraising companies to help, and at least two of those firms failed to register with Iowa officials and report details of their campaigns as required by state law.
Hospital spokesman Tom Moore said the fundraising campaign is legal and ethical. And he says it is in line with what other hospitals are doing.
"It's critically important to the institution that we engage our supporters in this type of opportunity," he said.
It appears that federal privacy laws allow the type of information sharing the Iowa City hospital has engaged in with the university foundation. And among teaching hospitals, the practice appears to be widespread.
The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy is also lobbying to relax federal privacy laws, so that fundraisers can use information related to the nature of patients' medical care even when patients don't authorize it.
But doctors associated with Public Citizen, a national advocacy group with 80,000 members, say the fundraising practice is distasteful. Dr. Sidney Wolfe said the hospitals are targeting patients who may feel compelled to give because of the doctor-patient relationship.
"That is an unequal relationship," Wolfe said. "Patients look up to their doctor. They're grateful to their doctor. They even call this the Grateful Patient Program. So is this not taking advantage of that gratitude?"
Foundation records the Des Moines Register obtained under the Iowa open records law indicate that the hospital shares a variety of information with the foundation unless patients take the initiative and request that no information be shared.
The fundraising program has even creating some misunderstanding among people involved. Dr. Keith Carter, head of the ophthalmology department, said he didn't realize that patient information could be shared with the foundation without their consent.
"The premise I am working on is that we're not sharing anything unless we get consent from the patient," he said. "We have a role to protect their privacy."
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com