January 8, 2019

Doctors in the Media: Abiding by HIPAA

by Continuum Health

In today’s digital age, it’s important to stay apprised of the rules and regulations surrounding providers and patients. A recent case in Connecticut serves as a good reminder of the rules set forth in the Health Insurance and Portability Act (HIPAA), which prohibits health care providers from disclosing a patient’s protected health information to media unless either (i) the patient or their personal representative authorizes the disclosure, or (ii) the disclosure fits within a HIPAA exception.

The case involved a patient who told a local TV reporter that she was allegedly turned away by a physician at Allergy Associates of Hartford, a medical group in Connecticut, because she had a service animal. When the reporter contacted the physician for comment, “the doctor impermissibly disclosed the patient’s protected health information to the reporter,” according to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

OCR found that the doctor’s comments demonstrated reckless disregard for the patient’s privacy rights, even though the doctor had been instructed by the practice’s Privacy Officer to either not respond or respond with “no comment.”

“When a patient complains about a medical practice, doctors cannot respond by disclosing private patient information to the media,” said OCR Director Roger Severino.

Healthcare attorneys recommend that physicians only make general statements in response to any criticism in the media or online, such as by saying, “We strive to provide the best service to all of our patients.” The physician can then reach out to the patient behind-the-scenes to resolve any outstanding issues.

Allergy Associates of Hartford has agreed to pay $125,000 to settle the alleged violations of confidentiality laws. In addition to the payout, the practice will undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of compliance monitoring.

The resolution agreement and corrective action plan can be referenced here.

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