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Does a personal letter to a doctor come under the privacy act?

Braintree, MA |
Filed under: Privacy law

My doctor never took me seriously, so I wrote an angry letter to him (e.g. I had acute Congestive Heart Failure for four years and he had never tested me for anything-even an EKG. I personally did not think the letter was harassing. He just would not talk to me about it personally, so I wrote it down. I marked the letter Personal. Later on, I found that he had instructed all the staff in his office-it was a big office (and a call center) to harass me. Does this come under the privacy act? He is now retired. Was it unethical?

Attorney Answers 2


I am going to assume for purposes of answering your question that by privacy act you mean HIPPA laws which generally protect your medical information from being disseminated without your permission, and I am not sure if your letter would fall under that and even if it did, he only shared it with his office. If you have evidence that your doctor instructed his office to harass you or committed malpractice in failing to treat you as other like professionals in his field would have, then you may want to consult an attorney about a possible claim against the doctor and his office. If you feel that what your doctor did was unethical you may want to contact the state or federal regulatory board that oversees doctors, such as the American Medical Association.

Please be sure to mark if you find the answer "helpful" or a "best" answer. (It lets us know how we are doing.) Attorney Kremer is licensed to practice in Massachusetts. Please visit her Avvo profile for contact information. In accordance with Avvo guidelines, the following disclaimer applies to all responses given in this forum: The above is NOT legal advice, and is NOT intended to be legal advice. No Attorney-Client relationship is created through the above answer.

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HIPAA has a "minimum necessary standard" which limits how much protected health information is used, disclosed, and requested for certain purposes. Generally within an office (at least based on my understanding) the staff may only discuss a patient's health for "treatment, payment, or health care operations" 45 CFR 164.502. From what you say, it definitely doesn't sound as thought it was for treatment or payment purposes. It may fall under the "health care operations" heading but probably not.

Depending on the type of harassment you may want to contact a lawyer for a free consultation and/or for medical malpractice if you suffered damages as a result of his failure to diagnose.

Good luck.

Atty: 845-704-7777. This answer is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should not take action based upon this information without consulting legal counsel. This answer is not intended to create, and does not create, an attorney-client relationship. PLEASE REMEMBER: All claims and legal matters have statutes of limitations and/or other important time periods that apply to them. This means that you must take action on all claims or legal matters within the required time period(s) or your claims could be barred by the statute of limitations or dismissed. Contact our office or another competent attorney immediately to discuss the particular facts of any claim or legal issue you might have in order to learn what time periods apply to your particular situation.

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