What do you do when a patient does not pay for services? You file a legal court action to collect your money. Right. But in this case, simply court filing for collections turned into a HIPAA complaint and a counter claim. And, the case even made the New York Times! http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/24/nyregion/a-patient-is-sued-and-his-mental-health-diagnosis-becomes-public.html?_r=0
How could everything go so wrong? The case involves Short Hills Associates in Clinic Psychology [Short Hills] of Springfield, New Jersey. When filing the lawsuit for collection of unpaid medical bills, Short Hills attached an accounting to the court filing. The accounting included patient diagnosis codes and treatment listings.
Court filings are a matter of public record. The records are open to the public. Some court websites allow internet download of all court filings. And, even if they are not downloadable via the internet, a copy may be obtained from the court house.
The patient said, per the New York Times article, “It turned my life upside down.”
In response to the court filing, the patient, an attorney, filed a complaint with the OCR [The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Civil Rights]. And, he filed a counter claim in the collection lawsuit. He filed a counter claim for invasion of privacy, breach of the psychologist patient privilege, fraud, misrepresentation, and other claims.
It is no longer simply a collection case. Short Hills could well be liable for far more than the unpaid medical bills. Short Hills filed 24 similar collection cases.
The moral of this post is not an abolishment against filing collection cases against patients. Filing collection cases against patients for unpaid balances is not prohibited by HIPAA. However, the inclusion of the diagnosis codes and treatment lists are not essential for substantiation of a collections case and should not be included in a court filings!
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