Vaccine mandates are on the way for some 80 million Americans. President Joe Biden announced policy that his administration would require employers with at least 100 employees to ensure they’re vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19 weekly. But until that comes to fruition, how can you find out whether or not health-care professionals treating you in exam rooms are vaccinated?
On Sunday, several thousand people gathered outside Washington’s state’s Capitol Building to protest vaccine mandates for workers. State workers must get the coronavirus vaccine by Oct. 18. Hospital, adult care and long-term care workers had until Sept. 27 to get an initial COVID-19 vaccine dose, under an executive order former Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Aug. 16. The question about whether those attending patients are vaccinated is especially important for immunocompromised individuals because coming into close contact with an unvaccinated person carries a greater level of risk. But simply asking health-care providers if they’re vaccinated could lead to awkward conversation, and be seen as an invasion of their privacy. You may be wondering if you can legally ask to begin with. The right to ask Even if you aren’t immunocompromised, legally and ethically you have the right to ask if your health care provider is vaccinated, said Govind Persad, a professor of health law and bioethics at the University of Denver.
“If possible, consider calling your doctor’s office before you visit in person to ask if the providers you’re seeing are vaccinated”
“You’re asking the provider something that’s relevant to your choice about whether to be treated by them,” he said. “It might be awkward, but awkward is not the same thing as unethical.” It’s also important to understand that you are not violating someone’s HIPAA rights when you ask if they’re vaccinated, Persad said. (HIPAA is an abbreviation for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.) “In this context, the only way HIPAA is going to be relevant is if, without permission, somebody shares somebody else’s health status,” including sharing their vaccination status. “I cannot think of any examples where asking somebody a question would violate HIPAA. They always have the ability to say, ‘No, I don’t want to answer that.’”
“‘As a patient, you’re not doing anything wrong asking a question’”
— Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Patient Advocate Foundation
If possible, consider calling your doctor’s office before you visit in person to ask if the providers you’re seeing are vaccinated, said Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Patient Advocate Foundation, a nonprofit that provides case management and financial aid to patients with chronic, life-threatening conditions. But if you really don’t feel comfortable doing that, Donovan suggested asking someone else to call on your behalf. “If it was my mom I would call and say, ‘This is me, not her …are you vaccinated?’ That way, she has a cushion between her and her provider on the off chance that he would feel differently about her even if he was vaccinated.” “As a patient, you’re not doing anything wrong asking a question,” Donovan added. She also encourages people (if possible) to “break up with their providers for any reason if they make them uncomfortable because you should be comfortable with your provider.”