His wife just called. The ambulance took him to Big Block Hospital. He’s probably been admitted by now.”

“Thanks for letting me know. I’ll call Big Block later and talk to the docs,” she said.

After she snarfed down her lunch, she dialed the phone number for Big Block. Her patient had a complicated medical history. The inpatient service would appreciate background information, she thought. Plus, she could then learn what had happened that led to this hospitalization.

Unsure where in the hospital the patient was, she selected the automated option to speak to Patient Admitting.

“Big Block Hospital, Admitting,” a female voice said. In the background were sounds of papers rustling and people who were talking loudly at each other.

“Hi. My name is Dr. Betty Crocker and I’m the outpatient doctor for Mr. Paul Stuart. Can you tell me what unit he’s in?”

Computer keys tapped faintly in the background.

“Paul Stuart, born 1970. He’s on 6 South. Would you like me to connect you?”

“Yes, please,” Dr. Crocker said, surprised.

After the phone rang twice, a tired voice answered, “Six south.”

“Hi. My name is Dr. Crocker and I’m the outpatient doc for Mr. Paul Stuart. May I speak to the physician who is taking care of him so I can pass along some medical information?”

“I’m sorry,” the voice answered. “I can’t tell you if he is here.”

“I’m sorry?” Dr. Crocker said, again surprised.

“I can’t tell you if Paul Stuart is in the hospital.”

“But I know he’s there.”

“For patient privacy reasons, I can’t tell you if he is here.”

“But I know he’s there,” Dr. Crocker said again. “I’d just like to give some information to help the treating team. Can I please speak to the someone there? Anyone?”

“I can’t tell you if he is here.”

“Okay. No one needs to tell me anything right now—I just want to pass along some information that might be helpful for the team.”

“You know about HIPAA? For patient privacy reasons, I can’t say if he is here.”

“Fine. Can I speak with your supervisor?”


Before Dr. Crocker could say anything, there was a soft click.

The phone rang five times before an automated message began to play: “Hello. You have reached the department of Decedent Affairs at Big Block Hospital. We are unable to take your call right now…”

Dr. Crocker muttered something profane as she forcefully returned the phone to its cradle.