While having an online presence is a reality and a must in today’s business marketing, one must be cautious about its use and the legal implications. For healthcare practices who are considered “Covered Entities” under HIPAA, and therefore must comply with all the regulations regarding protected health information (“PHI”), this creates even more of a landmine. The temptation for a healthcare provider to respond to a negative “Google” or other type of online review is almost irresistible, and this can lead to HIPAA violations. It is usually best practice for such negative reviews to go unanswered or with only an acknowledgement of receipt and a request for the reviewer to contact the office to discuss “off-line”. Merely responding to the review may subject the responder to acknowledging that the reviewer is actually a patient, which in itself may be a violation of HIPAA. Acknowledging treatment provided or other facts about PHI in such a public forum can also lead to further violation of HIPAA.
In addition to HIPAA, the use of online marketing may also lead to a violation of certain restrictive covenants a healthcare provider may have with a former employer. It is very common for employment agreements to include non-solicitation restrictions of patients or staff of former employers. A separated employee may join another practice or decide to open their own practice and may want to let “others” know of their new location. Online advertising or posting to inform public readers (which could include patients or staff of the former employer) that they are moving to another location and referencing specifically their old employer may be actionable as a solicitous act.
The attorneys at Thomas Law Group are ready to assist you should you have any questions about online activity and your liability.