Good Question: What Do Medical Conditions Actually Mean?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Lobbyist Mike Mika, who was injured in Wednesday’s Congressional baseball practice shooting, was upgraded from critical to serious condition Thursday afternoon.

There has been no change for Rep. Steve Scalise, who is still in critical condition.

But what do these conditions really mean?

Congress passed a health care law in 1996 with significant privacy considerations.

It is best known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA.

hospital generic Good Question: What Do Medical Conditions Actually Mean?

(credit: CBS)

It states, in part, the following:

A covered entity (hospital) may disclose a patient’s location in the facility and condition in general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual to any person, including the media, without obtaining a HIPAA authorization where the individual has not objected to his information being included in the facility directory, and the media representative or other person asks for the individual by name.

That means a hospital can give out general, not specific, information about the patient as long as the patient gives consent.

That is why the terms “good,” “fair,” “serious” and “critical’ exist as condition descriptions.

“I think they’re designed to say as little as possible about … the patient,” said Dr. Craig Bowron, a hospitalist at Allina Health. “I’m an English major … and so to me they’re very sort of vague.”

The American Hospital Association gives hospitals guidelines on one-word descriptions of a patient’s general condition:

Good

  • Vital signs are stable and within normal limits
  • Patient is conscious and comfortable
  • Indicators are excellent

Fair

  • Vital signs are stable and within normal limits
  • Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable
  • Indicators are favorable

Serious

  • Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits
  • Patient is acutely ill
  • Indicators are questionable

Critical

  • Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits
  • Patient may be unconscious
  • Indicators are unfavorable

Hennepin County Medical Center website also has “major complications or death may be a possibility” in its description of critical condition.

“When I think of critical, I think of somebody’s who in the ICU,” Dr. Bowron said. “Most of the time that’s either having them on a breathing machine, or what we call a ventilator, or having large IV access where we can give them critical medications to raise their blood pressure.”

He says people can, and often do, make full recoveries after being in critical condition.

How well they recover often depends on their age, prior health condition and the extent of injuries.

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