Jackson Kelly PLLC

Health Law Monitor

Dental Practice Social Media Post Results in Fine by Regulators

October 16, 2019

By: Mark T. Abell

In a recent resolution agreement between Elite Dental Associates (“Elite”), a dental practice in Dallas, Texas, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), the OCR alleged that Elite impermissibly disclosed patients' protected health information (“PHI”) in its responses to patient reviews on the social media site Yelp. As part of its investigation, OCR also asserted that Elite failed to have the appropriate policies and procedures in place regarding disclosures of PHI on social media; or a Notice of Privacy Practice form that complied with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Privacy Rule.

Based on OCR’s findings, Elite agreed to pay $10,000 to OCR and adopt a corrective action plan to settle the alleged violations of HIPAA. OCR characterized this settlement amount as "substantially reduced" because of Elite’s size, financial circumstances and cooperation, which could be regarded as a warning to large medical and dental practices. As part of the corrective action plan, Elite agreed to two years of continuous monitoring by OCR for HIPAA compliance purposes. 

Given that healthcare providers and their practices often use social media platforms for business as well as personal reasons, careful attention should be given to ensuring that healthcare providers and their respective practices establish and implement appropriate HIPAA compliance policies, procedures and employee training materials that appropriately address disclosures of PHI through social media.

Ross T. Yates is an attorney in the firm’s Evansville, Indiana office, where he practices business law, focusing primarily on mergers, acquisitions and related regulatory matters.


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