Health Net Sends Mental Health Patient Lists to Wrong Doctors
California-based insurer Health Net last month "violated patient confidentiality" for 12,000 members undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety by accidentally sending their names to the wrong doctors, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Health Net officials blamed the mid-December email snafu on a computer programming error that "failed to match patient names with the correct doctor." Although health insurers often send information to physicians about patients to improve care, some doctors and privacy experts argue that the practice could "breach" patient rights. "This does highlight the inherent danger when insurance companies have centralized copies of very personal information," Stan Dorn, project director of the Health Consumer Alliance, said, adding, "Although this private information was disclosed to doctors, it's not [the correct] doctors who got the information. ... Consumers should be able to trust that private information will stay private."
After Health Net found that 4,992 doctors had received incorrect patient lists, the company sent a Dec. 14 letter asking physicians to destroy the lists and "provide us with your acknowledgement that you have done so." Health Net spokesperson Brad Kieffer said that an "overwhelming majority" of doctors had returned the acknowledgement form. "Most physicians are going to be respectful, but the reality is that this shouldn't have happened," Mill Valley psychiatrist Mary De May, who received the Dec. 14 correction letter, said. She added, "As a physician, if I got a list of patients that supposedly were mine, but weren't, I would know something that I shouldn't know." De May also said that the error especially "horrified" her because the mailing was related to patients with mental health problems, noting, "In an ideal world, we wouldn't discriminate against people receiving psychiatric treatment. But the reality is we do discriminate." According to Kieffer, Health Net will review future mailings "more vigorously to ensure that the correct information goes out" (Wells, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/30).
In other Health Net news, Hugh Jones, former regional manager for the Southern California branch of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, will serve as Health Net's new president. Jones will oversee all operational functions for the insurer, including commercial and government operations, medical management, information systems, provider compliance and security. The company also named Beverly Bandini, director of network development for Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, as vice president of product development responsible for the development of new health plan products for the company's commercial, Medicare, individual and specialty products business lines (Los Angeles Times, 12/27).