Part 2: Basic Patient Rights (FAQ 48 of 65)
Right to Complain to the Secretary of HHS
48. Will Filing a Complaint Really Help?
We would love to tell you that the complaint process works, but we have our doubts. The problem is that HHS doesn't seem to take any action against covered entities that may be violating the rule. Up to a point, it is okay for HHS to work with violators to remedy problems. In the first year or two when everyone was getting used to HIPAA, leniency in enforcement was a reasonable policy.
At this stage, however, the HIPAA privacy rule has been in place for years. Sanctions for violations have been few or nonexistent. It is far from clear how much HHS cares about health privacy or HIPAA privacy enforcement. Covered entities may be ignoring some of the requirements because they know that there are no consequences.
Nevertheless, the complaint process is free and there is always a chance that intervention by HHS will occur and will help. We wouldn't hesitate to file a complaint if we thought that a covered entity did the wrong thing or treated us badly.
We remind you that filing a complaint may have the effect of spreading your health information around more widely. Not all complaint investigations will involve disclosure of the intimate details of your medical history, but some may. It is for you to judge whether a complaint will invade your privacy more than you can tolerate. But if you are just trying to get the hospital to respond to your request for a copy of your record, the additional threat to privacy may be small.