Part 2: Basic Patient Rights (FAQ 50 of 65)
Right to Complain to the Secretary of HHS
50. Should I Worry that a Covered Entity will Retaliate if I File a Complaint?
Each covered entity's notice of privacy practices must say that there will be no retaliation against a person who files a complaint. We would like to believe that.
But in the real world, there are no guarantees. We have seen, for example, a notice from a hospital that says – as required by the rule – that there will be no retaliation. The next sentence in the notice says more ominously that the hospital reserves the right “to take necessary and appropriate action to maintain an environment that serves the best interests of out patients and staff.” We have no idea what that means or why the hospital chose to add that statement directly after the required language about not taking retaliation. But it sure sounds like a threat to us.
We would be happier to see a privacy notice that included a statement to the effect that the hospital reserves the right to take additional actions to protect the privacy of its patients. However, hospital lawyers don't like statements like that, lest they be interpreted to oblige the hospital to do more than the bare minimum.
Is There Another Way to Protest a Privacy Violation?
We think that the first step should always be to complain directly to the covered entity that did something you think was wrong. Each covered entity has a privacy officer, and the name, address, and telephone number of the privacy officer should be included in the notice of privacy practices. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves the chance to make things right. It is also important for covered entities to know that people pay attention to privacy and that people care when privacy violations occur.
If the covered entity does not satisfy you, then you can look elsewhere. We don't think that every minor violation should become a federal case. Consider complaining locally about any violation. You get to make the choice. Remember too that filing a complaint may bring more attention to you and to your health record. You may want to be guarded about how much of your personal medical information you include in the complaint. In other words, the complaint process may further invade your privacy. You can ask that you name be masked or changed as part of the complaint, and some authorities may be willing to do so.
Here are some ideas if you want to pursue your complaint.