United States: The Biden administration has been sued by the biggest US hospital lobbying group on Thursday. The group has shown its disagreement over the new guidance barring hospitals and other medical providers from using trackers to monitor users on their websites.
A lawsuit has been filed against the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the federal court in Fort Worth, Texas. According to the reports by news agency Reuters, the lawsuit has been filed by American Hospital Association (AHA) and Texas Hospital Association, along with non-profit Texas health systems.
Violation of HIPAA
According to the reports, through the guidance, healthcare providers have been warned about gathering patient information with the help of a third-party technology company, such as Google or Meta. It can analyze visitors’ Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and other information on public websites – violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
HIPAA is a federal law that protects the private health information of individuals.
Several enforcement actions have been instigated by HHS under the guidance, according to AHA Deputy General Counsel Chad Golder told Reuters. It is to be noted that Golder’s group represents more than 5,000 hospitals across the nation.
In case of violation of HIPAA, penalties can be hefty, as the fines, which go up to thousands of dollars – are capped by HHS according to each IP address disclosed to the third party, as outlined by Golder.
Reportedly, the information from court documents revealed that some hospitals are facing lawsuits where people are coming together as a group, accusing the hospitals of mishandling their personal health data by using tracking devices.
It is to be noted that the lawsuit filed on Thursday seeks a declaration that the information collected by third-party trackers – Google Analytics or Meta Pixel is not “individually identifiable health information – protected by HIPAA.
It is to be noted that representatives from HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The reports by Reuters have informed that the hospitals’ public-facing websites, not portals of patients or sites protected by a password, are addressed by the guidance.
These details were shared by the HHS Office of Civil Rights via a bulletin – emphasizing that the proliferation of trackers on healthcare websites can share people’s diagnoses and frequency of medical visits and put people at risk of identity theft, discrimination, or other consequences. The authorities further underscored that the guidance is for any healthcare provider that is covered by HIPAA.
The reports have mentioned that the people who are taking legal action to prevent this rule from being enforced use these trackers in videos focusing on health conditions, for translating website content and for mapping technology that assists in finding their locations. The major concern among the public is that this guidance might make them get rid of these tools, which underscores that the information can’t be shared in the public domain.
The lawsuit underscored that the guidance was introduced without the opinion of medical providers and others. The group sued after making efforts to have a conversation with HHS for months but failed to make any progress.