Office of Civil Rights Fines Dental Practice for Disclosure of PHI on YELP

16:39 17 October in Articles

Kathrin KudnerBy Kathrin E. Kudner

The Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (“OCR”) settled a HIPAA violation with a Texas-based dental practice based on the practice’s inappropriate disclosures of PHI on YELP.

OCR received a complaint on June 5, 2016, from a patient of Elite Dental Associates alleging that the practice violated HIPAA when it responded to a review the patient submitted to YELP with a response that included PHI. The practice’s response on social media disclosed the patient’s last name, medical condition, treatment plan, insurance information and information about charges.

During its investigation of the complaint, OCR determined that the practice had responded to social media patient reviews on other occasions with disclosures of PHI. In addition, OCR determined that the practice had not implemented policies and procedures and was not using a HIPAA compliant Notice of Privacy Practices. In particular, OCR noted that the practice did not have policies and procedures specific to release of PHI on social media.

OCR imposed a fine of $10,000 and a corrective action plan. OCR indicated that the fine would typically have been larger but considered other factors, such as the financial resources of the practice, its size and the fact that the practice cooperated with OCR during the investigation.

This settlement clearly shows OCR’s intolerance for disclosure of PHI on social media as well as the need for providers to maintain HIPAA compliant policies and procedures and other required documents. As tempting as it is for a health care provider to respond to patient comments, particularly inaccurate or negative comments, the provider should think carefully before making any public response and consider responding to the patient with a private letter instead.


About Kathrin Kudner

Ms. Kudner’s practice is devoted to the representation of health care providers, payors and biotechnology and life sciences companies in various corporate and regulatory matters. Ms. Kudner is a member of the Firm’s Privacy and Data Security, Dental Service Organizations, Biotechnology and Life Sciences, and Insurance Teams.

ADVERTISING DISCLAIMER: Laws vary from state to state and are subject to change, which could affect the accuracy of the information available in this video. The material in this video is not legal advice or a substitute for your own legal counsel. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation and should not act on the information contained in this video without receiving professional, individualized, legal counsel. As part of our service to you, we regularly compile short reports on new and interesting development and the issues the developments raise. Please recognize that these reports do not constitute legal advice and that we do not attempt to cover all such developments. Rules of certain state supreme courts may consider this advertising and require us to advise you of such designation. Your comments are always welcome. © 2023 Dykema Gossett PLLC.