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New Jersey Psychology Group Exposes Patients’ Mental Health Information in Public Court Papers

lawsuitA lawyer from New Jersey received an unpleasant surprise after his former psychologist’s practice sued him for an unpaid bill. After scanning the papers, Philip, the lawyer, realized that the practice had included his mental health diagnosis and received treatments for all to see on the publicly filed court documents.

These days, most mental health practices use electronic software to submit claims and charge patients. In fact, as of 2012, 70% of providers used some sort of electronic billing service. This software has to be Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant, ensuring that the practice does not compromise patients’ confidentiality.

This is a relief for many patients, as a common fear among those receiving therapy services is that the details of their private sessions will be made public. Thanks to HIPAA, patients can rest assured that their psychologists will not betray their most intimate and vulnerable thoughts.

When patients fail to pay their bills, HIPAA allows health providers to sue patients. However, it only requires them to disclose the least amount of information regarding the patient possible.

Unfortunately, Philip wasn’t so lucky. Philip, who requested his last name be omitted in the press, reported to news outlets that he felt “betrayed” by his psychologists and worries that his now-public health information will be used against him by his legal adversaries.

“It turned my life upside down,” he said.

Philip’s former psychologist is part of the Short Hills Associates in Clinical Psychology group, based in New Jersey. In the past, the group has filed dozens of lawsuits similar to the one filed against Philip, suing patients for collections and including their names, diagnoses, and treatments on their court records.

According to WNYC.org, Short Hills Associates filed 24 collections cases between 2010 and 2014, all of which listed the patients’ diagnoses. According to New Jersey court records, the defendants included lawyers, a nonprofit official, and businesspersons.