A Hartford-based medical practice has agreed to pay $125,000 to the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and adopt a corrective action plan to settle allegations that a physician improperly disclosed patient information to a local television reporter in 2015.
At issue was a February 2015 conversation a patient had with the television reporter. According to HHS, the patient—whose name is not being disclosed—contacted the station to discuss a dispute with one of the three physicians in the practice. The complainant maintained she was turned away from Allergy Associates, which has four Connecticut locations, because of her use of a service animal.
The TV reporter later contacted the physician, who has not been named, for a comment. During their conversation, HHS says the physician wrongfully disclosed the patient’s protected health information to the reporter. That information was released to the reporter despite the Allergy Associates’ privacy officer instructing the physician to either ignore the media request or to respond with “no comment,” according to a release from HHS.
An investigation of the incident by the department’s Civil Rights office determined that the physician’s discussion with the reporter “demonstrated a reckless disregard for the patient’s privacy rights.” The civil rights division also reported that Allergy Associates failed to take any disciplinary action against the doctor. The Department of Justice also took part in the investigation into Allergy Associates.
No one from HHS would discuss the matter with the Connecticut Law Tribune, but, in a release, Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights, wrote: “When a patient complains about a medical practice, doctors cannot respond by disclosing private patient information to the media. 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.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, Allergy Associates has agreed to undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring their compliance with HIPAA rules.
The training the business will undertake, according to the 11-page binding resolution agreement, includes providing HHS with training materials for all employees by the end of January. In addition, upon receiving approval from HHS, Allergy Associates must provide training for each employee within 60 days of HHS approval and at least every 12 months thereafter.
In addition, Allergy Associates must provide training to each new employee within 30 days of their hire. The agreement also calls for Allergy Associates to review the training at least annually and, where appropriate, update the training to reflect changes in federal law and or HHS guidelines.
The implementation of the Allergy Associates corrective action plan will be led by Vikki Spencer, the business’ practice manager. Spencer did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
On its website, Allergy Associates says it’s “dedicated to improving the quality of patient care in allergy and immunology through research, advocacy and professional public education.”