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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 29816
Experience:  Lawyer
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I am 42 years old. I have been seeing my pain management

Customer Question

I am 42 years old. I have been seeing my pain management doctor for many years. My father has taken it upon himself to write my doctor a letter, regarding how HE feels I should be tapered off the pain medication, etc. I am a grown woman, no special needs, working full time and caring for myself.
Is it legal for my doctor, or any of his office staff to read that letter or must they shread it
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.


I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today.

There is no law that would require a doctor to shred a letter from a family member about a patient without reading it (since they'd have to read it to know what it was). It would be a violation of HIPAA for them to respond to him and give him any information about you, your condition, or your treatment. If they do that, you could sue for a privacy violation, UNLESS your father is involved in providing care to you, or paying for your care and you do not object. It doesn't sound like that's your situation, but if it were, you'd be able to tell the doctor that you objected and he would have to stop sharing information with your father.

Take a look at this list of examples for types of situations where your doctor could talk to your father.

However, they also are not bound by the letter or the requests made in any way, and the letter carries zero medical weight. If you have a doctor who would put the wishes of the parent of an ADULT patient ahead of the patient, then it may be time to find a new doctor. And there is no logical or legal reason your father would need to know who that new doctor was.

If you have any questions or concerns about my response, please reply WITHOUT RATING. It's important that you are 100% satisfied with my courtesy and professionalism. Otherwise, please rate my service positively so I am paid for the time I spend answering questions. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to scroll to the right. There is no charge for follow-up questions. Thank you.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
While waiting for your response, I called a local Emergency Room and spoke to the charge nurse. I asked her the exact same question. She was very very clear that unless the adult patient gives permission, the doctor CAN NOT read any letters from family members regarding his patients as he would have no way of knowing if that family member is just out of psych ward, disturbed, etc .... she said the doctor would be violating major HIPPA regulations and could easily be sued. Now i am very confused.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

How would a general doctor, not in the emergency room, who is opening a letter in the mail have any idea who the letter was from or what it concerned until he read it?

Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

The ER you talked to may have a POLICY of shredding letters they get, but since the law does allow parents and family members to receive information in certain scenarios, it doesn't penalize them for receiving unsolicited information.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
No, i explained the exact, specific situation to the ER doctor I spoke with regarding HIPPA and this issue. My PM doctor would know it was from my father because he would see the name and address in return address corner. Therefore, logic would dictate the topic of letter would be myself. And I have made it abudentley clear to my doctor that my treatment for it meds, therapy, injections, etc. ..are not to ever be discussed with anyone except myself.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

Ok, that's different. If your doctor KNOWS who your father is and not to talk to him, then he should not be reading the letter.

Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

But look at this overview of HIPAA. The entire statute is about what information a health care professional may DISCLOSE to third parties. It doesn't say anything about passively receiving information. The person who is in the wrong here is your father.

You can decide whether you want to keep working with a doctor who would ignore your wishes or put your father's needs ahead of your own. But I do not believe you could win a HIPAA lawsuit against the doctor unless you had some evidence that he solicited the letter or replied to it.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I feel like I am getting very ambiguous answers when I am looking for a straight forward, black or white, HIPPA Law answer. Can a doctor knowingly open and read a letter sent to him from the parent of one of his adult patients? Yes or no?
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

In my first response, I said that yes, the doctor can legally open and read the letter. Is it "wrong" if you've told him not to? Yes, but wrong is a moral judgment, not a legal one. I am not trying to be ambiguous.

Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

I do not believe that you would be successful in bringing a HIPAA suit against your doctor unless he solicited the letter from your father or responded to it.