Providers compromise patient privacy to defend themselves on Yelp

Some healthcare providers have violated HIPAA in attempts to respond to patient criticisms on online rating websites like Yelp, ProPublica reports.

Through a partnership with Yelp, ProPublica has access to its 1.7 million reviews of healthcare providers. The investigative newsroom sifted out 3,500 one-star reviews that mention privacy or HIPAA, and found in many of these reviews, providers had shared patient details while responding to negative comments.

ProPublica provided specific examples of several dentists, a chiropractor and a surgeon violating HIPAA. In each of these cases, the providers divulged private information in attempting to address the accusations and further explain their side of the story. Physicians and other healthcare providers can quickly get into hot water by responding on Yelp. A physician is not allowed to publically acknowledge that a person is a patient under HIPAA, even if the patient already referenced that information by writing the review in the first place, according to the report.

HHS' Office for Civil Rights has issued warnings to most of these providers if patients made official complaints, according to the report. However, ProPublica was unable to provide a number of complaints the office has received about HIPAA violations on Yelp because the office does not track this information.

Deven McGraw, the Office for Civil Rights deputy director of health information privacy, told ProPublica the best way for physicians to respond to negative commentary is to provide general comments, such as, "I provide all of my patients with good patient care."

The best thing providers can do is encourage more patients to write reviews for them, according to the report. If a physician has 50 reviews, a handful of bad ones stand out less than if the physician has just five reviews.

Read the full report here.


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