State Oversight of Physicians Needs Tightening

State officials are lax when it comes to disciplining doctors for infractions of the law.
State officials are lax when it comes to disciplining doctors for infractions of the law.

by Victoria Nicholls

State Sen. Diobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, a Henrico County physician, broke federal health privacy laws when she sent a political solicitation to her patients during her 2015 campaign, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported two weeks ago. And what were the consequences? Nothing.

The first-term senator won’t face fines or penalties, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ civil rights office. And that should concern every Virginian and American.

In the Times-Dispatch article, Dunnavant stated that her campaign solicitation letter was approved by a medical practice board and lawyers. Really? Did she chastise her lawyers for malpractice? Did any of her advisers suggest that she consult the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) specialists first? No? Why not?

Patients should be alarmed that Dunnavant was willing to transfer their data to a political campaign without their permission. If a nurse or admin had done the same, would the public agree that it was of no consequence for them to mine patients’ info for volunteer help and votes? What if another doctor or nurse used patients’ data for political purposes? Would they get the same hand-spanking?

“For me, it’s really all about the fact that none of my patients were harmed,” said Dunnavant.

What does Dunnavant have to say about her patients’ loss of data? What about their loss of privacy, which she was obligated by law and public/social agreement to protect? What about the loss of trust in the system? What other “enterprises” do doctors conduct on the side that we, the patients, are sacrificing our privacy for?

Authorities said Dunnavant, when aware of the potential privacy violation, moved quickly to “mitigate the damage” by deleting the protected data from a campaign computer.”

I’d like to know who else might have that data now. Was it backed up? If so, where? Who had access to it? Who else saw it? Did they sign confidentiality agreements? Are they even bound by HIPAA laws? No they aren’t. This is what makes this a huge, huge issue. Most people do not realize how much their personal data is sold on the market.

The system in Virginia isn’t willing to hold physicians accountable. In July 2016, I SENT Virginia physician-legislators including Dunnavant and Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, information that a convicted Tennessee pill-mill doctor was working in a hospital in Virginia. Federal law mandates that convicted drug traffickers be jailed pending sentencing. No response. I asked the Virginia Department of Health Professions how either (a) he got a license or (b) the State Medical Board missed the fact that he had no license.

Still no response.

Victoria Nicholls describes herself as a concerned Virginia citizen living in Chesapeake.

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2 responses to “State Oversight of Physicians Needs Tightening”

  1. Like every other aspect of state government, the rules holding physicians accountable should be held up for public scrutiny. Are they doing the job? Are the rules enforced uniformly and fairly? I don’t know the answer — but I do not subscribe to the view that everything is fine just because we’re not reading about stuff in the newspaper.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    important to distinguish between HIPPA rules for protecting information about your health versus other information about you – your name, demographics, etc which as far as I can tell is sort of a wild-wild-west realm known as “terms of service” which these days of internet are not only ubiquitous but often not seriously read by most folks as it reads a lot like the fine print on your insurance or contracts (of which is is). Most folks just click on the “accept” and move on… many without even knowing if they have agreed to have information collected and shared with 3rd parties or not.

    So when you go to the doctor -you often sign multiple forms , one of which is usually HIPPA but others which may (or may not) be essentially TOS.

    so at this point I don’t even know if a TOS is required or not.. perhaps the lawyers who frequent these pages know.

    but the consequences of not agreeing to terms of service is to not get the service.. and so if that’s your choice what would you do? not get the service and go elsewhere and hope they don’t do the same?

    or… do you want a law/regulation that governs when TOS can be used or not or what TOS can be allowed or not?

    At any rate, you’re talking about MORE regulation and MORE govt and MORE govt bureaucracy to enforce it.

    So this is where regulation comes from quite often. It’s contest of who has “rights” – which include both sides of the transaction…

    the regulation is basically – the government – dictating the rule of the transaction – as opposed to it being a voluntary market-based agreen between a willing seller and buyer.

    this is just one small part of the world where some say they prefer “libertarian” type commerce without the govt involved – as “better” than the govt sticking it’s nose into every little nook and cranny of commerce.

    so what if the Govt response here was caveat emptor, i.e. the terms of the service are between you and the person you’re getting the service from and it’s your right and responsibility to accept or reject, not the govt’s role?

    so how about it? Is it better to let people decide what they want or not and not have more regulation and more government?

    so this IS health care – is this one of those things where we want the “market” to “work” without the govt distorting that market?

    how about it? let’s hear from others!

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