Doctor reviews open up can of worms for HIPAA

I don’t know about you but when I am traveling to someplace different I almost always look at the reviews of the hotel or for a recommended restaurant. I even read the reviews when I want to download an audible book. I think that being able to read a review of something I want to purchase ahead of time is really helpful.  Most of us have bought something on Amazon, and they have reviews for everything.  Amazon depends on buyers to review the items they purchase.

Now we can also review our doctors on sites such as Yelp.  I can see the benefit of this as I can read about a doctor before I go to them or even pick one.   These types of reviews, as so much social media does, opens up a whole new issue for HIPAA.

If a doctor responds back in a personal way about a particular patient review, he could be disclosing patient data. If I rate a doctor poorly for treating my son and she or her office responds and confirms my son is a patient, they are violating HIPAA.  They cannot disclose he is a patient without my permission.

If they say anything that reveals any part of the patient care, they are also violating HIPAA.  The only allowable response a doctor or an office can post would be general statements such as “I give all my patients good care” or to apologize if office waits are long.  They can also say “We have many good reviews by our patients.”

I found all of this interesting as I had never thought about reviews affecting doctors and that they really are unable to say anything that might help clarify the situation.  If a patient writes about a doctor and puts specifics in the review, are they themselves revealing they are a patient?  According to HIAA they are, so we can’t expect doctors to answer these reviews as it could cost them a hefty fine if they answer in any way that confirms the patient’s identity even though it would help clarify a review by presenting their side.

To me this poses real food for thought.  If a patient goes on social media and reveals they are a patient and specifics of treatment, is that giving the doctor permission to answer?


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About Linda Allard

Linda Allard is the president of NEMT.
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