North County Times Looks at Patient Privacy Controversy
The North County Times on Saturday examined legal accusations by a Ramona resident that doctors violated his privacy by giving his contact information to a political action committee supporting Proposition BB.
Proposition BB was a $496 billion construction bond measure placed on the Nov. 2, 2004, ballot by Palomar Pomerado Health (Moss, North County Times, 1/29). The proposal -- which raises funds to go toward a $753 million 453-bed hospital; an upgraded Palomar Medical Center, and Pomerado Hospital; and new satellite medical facilities -- was approved by 70% of inland North San Diego County voters (California Healthline, 11/4/04).
David Sossaman has charged that his physician illegally supplied his contact information to Citizens for Better Health Care -- Yes on BB, a political action committee supporting Proposition BB. He also alleges that the PAC then sold his information to telemarketers, evidenced by "an increase in telemarketing calls after the election," the Times reports. He is seeking $25,000 from his former doctor, the PAC and a Palomar Medical Center board member.
Palomar Pomerado Health Board Chair Marcelo Rivera on Friday said that he provided the PAC with the names and addresses of about 1,000 of his patients. "I did not give them any other information other than names and addresses," Rivera said, adding, "I'm not disclosing any patient health information."
Alan Larson, a physician and hospital board member named in Sossaman's lawsuit, said that he believes it was his "responsibility as a physician" to inform his patients "about matters of their own personal families' health." He added, "I told them that, in my opinion, the expansion plan would be serving their health and the health of their families."
Larson and two other physicians in his medical group admitted to sending their own Proposition BB letters to patients, but they denied giving patient information to the PAC. However, other physicians with the group admitted to contracting a direct-mailing company to assist with the mailings.
The direct-mailing company owner said he received the patient information from the PAC.
Citizens for Better Health Care Chair Ken Lounsbery said he did not know if the PAC obtained patient information from doctors and passed it on to direct mail or telemarketing companies. He said an independent investigation had been launched, which is expected to be concluded within 10 days. "The results, I promise you, will be publicly disclosed," Lounsbery said.
According to state and federal medical privacy experts, doctors "generally are prohibited from releasing patient names, addresses and phone numbers to third parties, under the law," the Times reports.
Richard Campanelli, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said on Thursday that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits the sale or use of patient information for marketing purposes other than doctors' own services and products. Doctors are allowed to contact their patients about health-related matters and also can give patient information to companies that contact patients for the doctors, Campanelli said.
Joan McNabb, chief of the Office of Privacy Protection, added that California law, which is more strict than the federal privacy regulations, generally requires physicians to protect patients' names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as medical information (North County Times, 1/29).