Arguments over public ratings on websites such as Yelp and RateMDs have some health professional spilling patient information to rebut the bad reviews.
An investigation by ProPublica found that dozens of doctors, dentists and chiropractors, among others, divulged the details of patients’ diagnoses and treatments as they push back on negative reviewers, an apparent violation of federal HIPAA law.
HIPAA forbids health professionals from disclosing any patient health information without permission.
“There’s certainly ways to respond to reviews that don’t implicate HIPAA,” Yelp’s senior director of litigation Aaron Schur said in the report.
One example ProPublica sighted in California was a chiropractor who pushed back against a mother’s claims that he misdiagnosed her daughter with scoliosis.
“You brought your daughter in for the exam in early March 2014,” the chiropractor 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.”
The shock of exposure can be effective, prompting patients to back off, according to the report.
“I posted a negative review” on Yelp, a client of a California dentist wrote in 2013. “After that, she posted a response with details that included my personal dental information. … I removed my review to protect my medical privacy.”
The Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces HIPAA, could not say how many complaints it has received in this area because it doesn’t track complaints this way, according to the report.
Yelp has given ProPublica unprecedented access to its public reviews more than 1.7 million.
Read more of the co-published report at Washington Post.com.
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