Criticize Your Doctors at Your Own Risk: HIPAA Violations and Online Reviews

Many of us divulge some of the most intimate aspects of our lives on social media. If you do that and understand what you’re doing, that’s your choice to make. Social media and the internet can become a big problem if others are publishing intimate aspects of your life without your permission. This can happen when healthcare providers violate your privacy and the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by disclosing protected information on the internet.

Healthcare providers have been fired for posting pictures and videos online of patients being treated in emergency rooms and of nursing home residents. Apparently the latest is doctors and dentists disclosing personal patient information online in response to critical reviews of their services on websites like Yelp, according to the Washington Post.

The Post cited these examples,

  • A dentist responded to a patient who blamed him for the loss of a molar: “Due to your clenching and grinding habit, this is not the first molar tooth you have lost due to a fractured root,” he wrote. “This tooth is no different.”
  • A chiropractor responded to a mother’s claims he misdiagnosed her daughter with scoliosis. “You brought your daughter in for the exam in early March 2014,” he wrote. “The exam identified one or more of the signs I mentioned above for scoliosis. I absolutely recommended an x-ray to determine if this condition existed; this x-ray was at no additional cost to you.”
  • Another dentist didn’t hold anything back when discussing a patient who accused him of a misdiagnosis. “I looked very closely at your radiographs and it was obvious that you have cavities and gum disease that your other dentist has overlooked…You can live in a world of denial and simply believe what you want to hear from your other dentist or make an educated and informed decision.”

Healthcare providers can respond to online reviews speaking in generalities but need permission to discuss individual cases. Getting a bad online review doesn’t create a loophole in HIPAA allowing doctors or dentists to open up a patient’s file to public scrutiny. In 2013 a California hospital was fined $275,000 for disclosing information to the media about a patient allegedly in retaliation for the patient complaining about the hospital.

Disclosure of your medical information may be the least of your worries if you create a negative online review of your doctor. Buried in all the paperwork you signed when you were first seen by your doctor may be a provision stating you agree not to post any negative reviews of the doctor and if you do, you can be sued for violation of contract. If the physician feels your review is false and he or she has suffered as a result you may be sued for libel.

Online reviews are a powerful tool that can help or hurt a medical practice. If you want to create one do so with care.

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