Obama Confirms Partners’ Visitation, Decision Rights


HM leaders should pay close attention to the landmark decision by President Obama to extend visitation and critical-care decision rights to the partners of gay and lesbian patients, according to one hospitalist.

“The hospitalists would be the gatekeepers, in some ways, to make those calls,” says Heather Whelan, MD, an assistant professor and medical director at Mount Zion Medical Service, Division of Hospital Medicine, at the University of California at San Francisco. “I think hospitalists, group managers, and hospitals themselves are going to build this into policies and practices.”

Via a memo written in mid-April, the president mandated that all hospitals receiving federal funding must extend visitation rights to gay partners and “respect the patient’s choices about who may make critical heath-care decisions for them,” according to the Washington Post. Gay activists cheered the decisions; many conservative groups decried it.

An SHM spokesperson says the society “always expects that its hospitalists and their policies know and comply with federal, state and local regulations.”

Dr. Whelan notes that many hospitals in more progressive areas of the country—including San Francisco and New York City—already extend the rights that Obama has now codified. However, she says she has heard from physicians working elsewhere that the issue can crop up on who can be involved in critical-care meetings and decisions. The issue can be particularly sensitive in cases in which the patient is noncommunicative due to a stroke or other acute condition.

“This will standardize care,” Dr. Whelan says, adding, “It almost doesn’t matter how frequently it comes up. It’s a high-stakes event. One or two instances of it coming up are too many.”

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