Will more consumer reviews of facilities also create the potential for the unauthorized disclosure of protected health information and possible privacy breach investigations?

That’s what worries Garden City Administrator Bloom. Along with her February 2015 complaint, the granddaughter of that former patient posted seven images of the facility, one of which she claimed was unattended medical notes about her grandmother.

There are several levels of concern here. Even if the patient’s family member posted protected health information, might the Department of Health and Human Services not launch a HIPAA investigation based upon the assertion that the notes were not properly secured? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy regulations require medical facilities to develop policies and procedures to prevent unauthorized disclosure of protected health information.

When he contacted Yelp to share his concerns,  Bloom says he found their response lacking in appreciation for health care data privacy rules.

“We felt violated,” Bloom says. “I’m supportive of Yelp, but we are over-conscious with HIPAA. I would remove it if it were my choice.”

Some physicians also cite privacy issues as their reason for not reaching out to unhappy patients online. King says that if the website allows it, providers should respond on the site and privately.

“When you respond publicly, you say nothing about that case, that patient’s case, including any acknowledgement that he is a patient,” King advises. “Our top response is something along the lines of, ‘We’re sorry to hear your report of this experience’ (that doesn’t acknowledge culpability or responsibility or that it actually happened). ‘This is not the kind of experience we strive for in our practice. We would like to address your complaint and ask that you please contact our office,’” King says.

“When you do that, about half the time we notice that the complainer will go back online and put a positive second posting thanking the practice for reaching out to them.”