A Hartford physician allegedly ignored the advice of a colleague and spoke to a TV reporter in a dispute with a patient over the use of a service animal at the allergy practice.
A Connecticut physicians group will pay the federal government $125,000 to settle alleged violations of confidentiality laws after disclosing a patient's identity to the news media.
The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services alleged that one of three physicians at Allergy Associates of Hartford, PC, disclosed a patient's health information in 2015 while responding to a television reporter's inquiry.
The patient had contacted the television station to complain about an Allergy Associates physician who allegedly turned away the woman from the practice because she used a service animal, the OCR complaint said.
When a reporter at the television station contacted the physician to hear that side of the story, "the doctor impermissibly disclosed the patient's protected health information to the reporter," OCR said.
The alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act came after the doctor was told by Allergy Associates' privacy officer to not respond to the media.
Not surprisingly, Allergy Associates did not respond to HealthLeaders' request for a statement.
OCR said the doctor—whose name was not disclosed—"demonstrated a reckless disregard for the patient's privacy rights," and that Allergy Associates failed to discipline the doctor or take any corrective action following the illegal disclosure.
"When a patient complains about a medical practice, doctors cannot respond by disclosing private patient information to the media," OCR Director Roger Severino said in a media release.
"Because egregious disclosures can lead to substantial penalties, covered entities need to pay close attention to HIPAA’s privacy rules, especially when responding to press inquiries," he said.
In addition to the $125,000 payout, Allergy Associates agreed to a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring their compliance with the HIPAA Rules.
The agreement states that it is not an admission of liability by Allergy Associates, nor is it a concession from HHS that HIPAA laws were not violated.
“When a patient complains about a medical practice, doctors cannot respond by disclosing private patient information to the media.”
HHS Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.
The patient initiated the public spat when she contacted a TV station, but the docs were penalized after telling their side of the story.
In addition to the $125,000 settlement, Allergy Associates will undergo two years of compliance monitoring.
Allergy Associates admits to no liability, and HHS makes no concessions that laws were not violated.