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Doctors Caught Revealing Patient Medical Information on Yelp

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The front desk was rude, and you waited 40 minutes for an appointment that only lasted five. Despite your lousy experience, a new investigation suggests you may want to think twice before leaving a nasty review on Yelp.

The investigation, published by The Washington Post and ProPublica, showed that some doctors are responding to these negative reviews and, by doing so, are revealing sensitive medical information online.

Given the popularity of review-based websites, doctors are feeling the pressure to make sure their practices receive positive reviews – going so far as blaming patients for their poor experiences.

According to the article, one dentist replied to a review alleging he misdiagnosed his patient with the following: “I looked very closely at your radiographs and it was obvious that you have cavities and gum disease that your other dentist has overlooked. … You can live in a world of denial and simply believe what you want to hear from your other dentist or make an educated and informed decision.”

Even if you leave a nasty review – be it on Yelp, RateMDs or even the doctor’s own website – a doctor is not legally allowed to reply with any of personal medical information unless a patient has granted permission.

Your medical information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), an act designed to keep all medical information private. HIPAA prohibits doctors and their staff from revealing medical information without patient consent. This includes medical records, discussions the doctor may have had with their staff, billing information and any information stored a patient’s health insurer.

What doctors can do, according to Deven McGraw, deputy director of health information privacy for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, is say “I provide all of my patients with good patient care” and “I’ve been reviewed in other contexts and have good reviews.’” But when it comes to private information, they can’t “take those accusations on individually by the patient,” McGraw told The Washington Post and ProPublica.

If you believe your doctor has violated your HIPAA rights online, you can notify them of this and ask them to take down any information posted. You can also send a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights.

We want to know: Do you review your doctors online? Do you think doctors have a right to reply to negative feedback? 

Originally published: May 27, 2016
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