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HIPAA and social media: Lessons from $10,000 settlement

A small dental practice recently agreed to a $10,000 settlement with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for an alleged Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation. The case provides a lesson for all small private practices on the importance of navigating social media carefully.

Social media is more than Facebook, use Yelp carefully

It is easy to think of social media as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and simply avoid those accounts to reduce the risk of a professional conduct or HIPAA violation. However, it is important for medical professionals to note the social media world extends far beyond these sites. Other sites, like Yelp that offer doctor review options, fall within the definition of social media. As such, physicians need to tread carefully when responding to comments.

Make a mistake on Yelp and you could put your medical license at risk

In this case, a dentist responded to a patient’s comments on Yelp. The response included protected patient information such as the patient’s name and treatment plan. As a result, the OCR found the comment was a violation of HIPAA. The dental practice chose to settle the dispute.

In addition to financial penalties, a medical practitioner could find their license at risk. Depending on the details of the allegations, the state board could find the violation warrants an investigation — ultimately putting one’s medical license at risk. As such, physicians that find themselves accused of a HIPAA violation are wise to seek legal counsel. An attorney can review the situation and discuss legal options to address both the allegations of a HIPAA violation as well as potential license concerns.

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