Part 2: Basic Patient Rights (FAQ 51 of
Right to Complain to the Secretary of HHS
51. 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.
- Complain to the Secretary as described above. We can't tell
you that it will help, but it could, it is easy to do, and it costs
- If you do complain to the Secretary, consider sending a copy of your
complaint to your congressman or Senators. Ask them to write to the
Secretary and report back about what happens to the complaint. When
an elected official writes to an agency on behalf of a constituent,
the constituent's file gets a pink slip and faster attention.
The downside may be sharing your personal information more widely.
- You might be able to complain to a state official. Every state has
a health department and an insurance department. If your complaint is
about a health care provider, complain to the health department. If
the complaint is about an insurer, complain to the insurance department.
- Health care providers hold licenses from state boards. If the violation
is serious, see if the state licensing board accepts public complaints.
- If your problem is newsworthy and you are willing to make it public,
you might look for a local reporter who covers health issues and who
may be interested in your story. Remember that going public may just
make the privacy violation worse, but it may get better results.
- Use the Web. You may find websites where you can post your story
and the basics of your complaint.
- Tell your friends and neighbors. A national insurance company may
not care what you say. However, local providers and local hospitals
care a lot. A bad reputation can result in the loss of clients and revenues.
- HIPAA does not provide patients with the right to sue covered entities.
However, other law may allow you to sue. If the courts recognize that
HIPAA establishes a standard of care, then it may be possible to sue
for breach of contract, malpractice, violation of standards of professional
conduct, or on other grounds. Lawsuits are not fun, and they can be
expensive. Finding a lawyer willing to take a privacy case can be hard.
Obtaining damages can be highly uncertain. Lawsuits are remedies to
be pursued only for major problems.