Journalism in the Public Interest

Policing Patient Privacy

Federal health watchdogs say they are cracking down on organizations that don’t protect the privacy and security of patient records, but data suggests otherwise. More »

Federal health watchdogs say they are cracking down on organizations that don’t protect the privacy and security of patient records, but data suggests otherwise. Explore the App »

The ABC television show “NY Med” filmed Mark Chanko’s final moments without the approval of his family. Even though his face was blurred, his wife recognized him. “I saw my husband die before my eyes.” More »

What has been your experience with patient privacy? Do you think your medical information was shared by your doctor or health-care provider? Do you think it was involved in a breach? Tell us your story »

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Federal Health Officials Seek to Stop Social Media Abuse of Nursing Home Residents

After ProPublica identified dozens of cases of dehumanizing photos posted on social media sites, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a plan to increase its oversight to prevent and punish such abuse.

The Secret Documents That Detail How Patients’ Privacy is Breached

A federal agency sends thousands of letters a year to health providers closing out complaints about HIPAA violations. Though the government could make those letters public, it doesn’t. ProPublica has started to do so.

Read the HIPAA Closure Letters For Yourself

Under the Freedom of Information Act, ProPublica requested letters closing HIPAA complaint investigations. Here’s what we’ve received so far.

Health Gadgets and Apps Outpace Privacy Protections, Report Finds

In 2009, Congress asked for recommendations on what to do about information that falls outside the privacy law known as HIPAA. Today, health officials released their report, but offered no suggestions.

As Cases Multiply, Officials Scramble to Stop Abuse of Nursing Home Residents on Social Media

Iowa health officials recently discovered it wasn’t against state law for a nursing home worker to share a photo on Snapchat of a resident covered in feces. They are trying to change that.

Stung by Yelp Reviews, Health Providers Spill Patient Secrets

The vast majority of reviews on Yelp are positive. But in trying to respond to critical ones, some doctors, dentists and chiropractors appear to be violating the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA.

New York Hospital to Pay $2.2 Million Fine for Allowing Filming of Patients Without Consent

Federal action could spell the end of emergency room reality television.

New York Top Court Revives Suit Against Hospital That Let Man’s Death Be Filmed

Mark Chanko’s family sued NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and one of its doctors for allowing a TV crew to film his death without permission. A lower court had thrown the case out, but the New York Court of Appeals revived it.

Another Senator Calls for Action on Social Media Abuse of Nursing Home Residents

The move follows a ProPublica report that identified some three dozen incidents since 2012 in which dehumanizing or degrading photos of residents were posted on social media sites.

Senator Asks Privacy Regulators to Stop Abuse of Nursing Home Residents on Social Media

ProPublica reported in December about three dozen inappropriate posts by employees of nursing homes and assisted living centers. A top Democrat wants details on efforts to combat the trend.

Nursing Assistant Fired, Charged After Posting Nude Video of 93-Year-Old on Snapchat

The incident, which allegedly took place earlier this month, is the most recent in a string of surreptitious recordings by employees of nursing homes and assisted-living centers. Many involve the social media network Snapchat.

The Consequences for Violating Patient Privacy in California? Depends Where the Hospital Is

A ProPublica analysis found California officials are inconsistently enforcing a 2008 patient privacy law. Hospitals in the state’s Inland Empire rack up deficiencies while Los Angeles hospitals almost never do.

Farrah Fawcett Was Right — We Have Little Medical Privacy

Our reporter spent the past year reporting on loopholes and lax enforcement of the federal patient-privacy law known as HIPAA. He was often reminded of his interview years ago with Fawcett after her privacy was breached. "It seems that there are areas that should be off-limits," she said.

Another VA Headache: Privacy Violations Rising at Veterans’ Medical Facilities

Deceased vets’ data has been sent to the wrong widows. Employees have snooped on the records of patients who’ve committed suicide. And whistleblowers say their own medical privacy has been violated. In response, the VA says patient privacy is a priority.

HIPAA Helper

Who is Revealing Your Private Medical Information?

Methodology: How We Analyzed Privacy Violation Data

ProPublica followed the paper trail to find out the health care facilities that repeatedly violated patient privacy laws. Find out how we did it.

Few Consequences For Health Privacy Law’s Repeat Offenders

Regulators have logged dozens, even hundreds, of complaints against some health providers for violating federal patient privacy law. Warnings are doled out privately, but sanctions are imposed only rarely. Companies say they take privacy seriously.

New Jersey Psychology Practice Revealed Patients’ Mental Disorders in Debt Lawsuits

When pursuing unpaid bills, Short Hills Associates in Clinical Psychology disclosed the diagnoses and treatments of patients, including minor children, in court papers. “It turned my life upside down,” one former patient said. HIPAA doesn’t apply.

Nursing Home Workers Share Explicit Photos of Residents on Snapchat

A ProPublica review found 35 cases since 2012 in which nursing home or assisted living workers surreptitiously shared photos or videos of residents on social media. At least 16 cases involved Snapchat.

Inappropriate Social Media Posts by Nursing Home Workers, Detailed

Here are details of 47 incidents since 2012 in which workers at nursing homes and assisted-living centers shared photos or videos of residents on social media networks. The details come from government inspection reports, court cases and media reports.

Celebrities’ Medical Records Tempt Hospital Workers to Snoop

Snooping on celebrities has been a bane for health systems around the country for years. Here's a partial list of high-profile breaches and the consequences that accompanied them.

Small-Scale Violations of Medical Privacy Often Cause the Most Harm

Breaches that expose the health details of just a patient or two are proliferating nationwide. Regulators focus on larger privacy violations and rarely take action on small ones, despite the harm.

Privacy Not Included: Federal Law Lags Behind New Tech

The federal privacy law known as HIPAA doesn’t cover home paternity tests, fitness trackers or health apps. When a Florida woman complained after seeing the paternity test results of thousands of people online, federal regulators told her they didn’t have jurisdiction.

When Students Become Patients, Privacy Suffers

University students have less privacy for their campus health records than they would have if they sought care off campus. Schools say they are trying to seek the right balance between privacy and safety.

After Sexual Assault, Woman Says University Lawyers Accessed Her Counseling Records

Laura Hanson says University of Oregon attorneys obtained her counseling records without her permission. The university says it did nothing wrong, but has since changed its policy.

Foes Dive for Discarded Records in Abortion Clinic Dumpsters

Garbage has become an unlikely battleground in the abortion debate, as anti-abortion groups seek evidence of privacy violations in clinics’ trash. “Is it a little bit on the sketchy side?” one activist said of such tactics. “Yeah, maybe.”

Activists Pursue Private Abortion Details Using Public Records Laws

Across the country, those who support abortion rights and those who oppose them are feuding in court over how much information should be disclosed about women undergoing abortions. Supporters say there’s no margin for error. Opponents say it’s about ensuring quality care.

New York City Hospitals to End Filming Without Consent

After a reality television show filmed the death of a man without getting his family’s approval, New York City hospitals have decided to put an end to filming patients without consent.

Health Data Breaches Sow Confusion, Frustration

One consumer was the victim of hacking attacks on two different health insurers; a company’s privacy officer didn’t realize that health insurer Anthem even had her data. “It gives you a new perspective when you’re actually one of the folks whose data is disclosed.”

Despite Wave of Data Breaches, Official Says Patient Privacy Isn’t Dead

Yet another health insurer reported a massive data breach this week, affecting the financial and medical information of 11 million people. We asked the head of the federal agency tasked with investigating these issues whether the notion of patient privacy was outmoded.

New York Legislation Would Make It a Felony to Film Patients Without Prior Consent

The bill was filed after a ProPublica story about a man whose death was recorded by the real-life medical series “NY Med” without permission. His widow recognized her husband while watching the show on TV.

Ebola-infected Nurse Contends Dallas Hospital Violated Her Privacy

In a lawsuit filed today, nurse Nina Pham says that a colleague videotaped her without her permission and then the hospital released the tape to the media.

Podcast: Protecting Your Health Data

Charles Ornstein and Julia Angwin on how hackers can use your information, and what you – and health care companies – should be doing to protect it.

Over 1,100 Health Data Breaches, but Few Fines

Since October 2009, health care organizations and their business partners reported 1,142 large-scale data breaches, each affecting at least 500 people, to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, seven breaches have resulted in fines.

Fines Remain Rare Even As Health Data Breaches Multiply

Federal health watchdogs say they are cracking down on organizations that don’t protect the privacy and security of patient records, but data suggests otherwise.

When a Patient’s Death is Broadcast Without Permission

The ABC television show "NY Med" filmed Mark Chanko's final moments without the approval of his family. Even though his face was blurred, his wife recognized him. "I saw my husband die before my eyes."

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.

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