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Patient Sued By Health Care Provider, Patient’s Personal Info Published In Court Documents

When a mental health patient seeks psychological care, the patient expects the utmost confidentiality from his or her care providers. Mental health issues are a private matter, and as it is a health matter, the details of the patient’s condition should not be made available to the public. Most people would think that there are legal and ethical protections in place that would prevent mental health professionals from being able to reveal such personal information about patients, and yet a federal patient privacy law has failed to do just that. A loophole in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has made it possible for some health providers from making patient information available in suits for unpaid bills.

HIPAA allows health care providers to sue patients in court for overdue payments for services rendered and the law requires that health care providers disclose as little information as possible about patients when filing a collections lawsuit. Only as much information about patients as to identify them for collection purposes should be revealed. However, HIPAA rules only apply to electronic submissions patient data, and health care providers who use paper records and paper billing practices are not subject to the rules imposed by HIPAA.

Psychology Center Discloses Patient Information In Debt Collection Suit

The New York Times recently reported a local incident involving the public disclosure of patient information by a mental health care facility in a debt collection lawsuit. A lawyer seeking mental health treatment at the Short Hills Associates in Clinical Psychology in New Jersey was the first to notice that his personal information, including his name, mental health diagnosis and treatments, was disclosed in a debt collections lawsuit. Looking into the situation a little further, it was discovered Short Hills had filed 24 collections suits against patients between 2010 and 2014 where the patient’s name, diagnosis and treatment were documented in court records that are available for public inspection. Such disclosures could amount to be an invasion of patient privacy and a breach of the doctor patient confidential relationship.

Patients whose information was publically disclosed in court documents include lawyers, a non-profit organization manager, business leaders, and even minor children. It would not have been impossible for Short Hills to have redacted the patient’s personal information from the lawsuit, as other psychology groups in the area who also filed collection suits against patients with overdue bills were able to redact diagnosis and treatments from their court filings. Yet, Short Hills failed to redact diagnosis and treatment codes from patient billing information that was submitted to the court.

How Did This Happen?

Since Short Hills does not keep electronic patient records, the facility is not subject to HIPAA regulation, and the Office for Civil Rights of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is the department that investigates HIPAA violations, lacks jurisdiction over Short Hills in this matter. The lawyer who initially discovered the disclosure of his and other patient information is trying to form a class action lawsuit against Short Hills for invasion of privacy, fraud, misrepresentation and breach of the doctor-patient confidential relationship.

Patient privacy is important, and your personal information, diagnosis and treatment should never be disclosed to the public. If you believe that your medical information has been exposed to the public in violation of your rights, contact one of the lawyers at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. today to discuss your case at no charge to you. Call us at (215) 567-3500 or send us an email through our online contact form available here.

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