Why Do I Have to Sign All This Paperwork?????
Why do I have to sign all of this paperwork?
Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT
Clinical Director, KPS
It is a familiar experience upon approaching the receptionist at a doctor’s office or counselor’s office or psychologist’s office- you are handed a stack of papers to read and sign. What you may not realize is that these forms are provided to protect both you and the office that you are visiting. Strict laws (created by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA) govern how your private information can be used and disclosed. These laws are meant to protect your privacy, and there can be serious repercussions for breaking these privacy laws.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed an order requiring BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, to pay $7.8 million to consumers whose health data was compromised by the platform (Federal Trade Commission, 2023). BetterHelp was also banned from sharing consumer’s private health data for the purposes of advertising. Though BetterHelp had promised consumers not to use their private health information except for purposes related to the process of providing counseling services, the FTC complaint alleges that the organization revealed consumers’ email addresses, IP addresses, and health questionnaire information (such as questions about suicidal thoughts, medications, etc.) to Meta, Snapchat, Pinterest, and other social networking sites for the purposes of advertising (Neporent, 2023). The FTC complaint also alleges that BetterHelp falsely denied news reports in 2020 that it was revealing clients’ personal information to third parties (Federal Trade Commission, 2023).
At Kranz Psychological Services, when you read through our own Notice of Privacy Practices, you will notice that practitioners at KPS can use your information to obtain payments for services from your insurer or remind you of appointments. Additionally, we may release your information to reduce a serious threat to a person’s health or safety or notify authorities of suspected child/elder abuse (as we are also required to do by state law.) A complete list of purposes for which private information may be disclosed is provided in this document; any other purposes require a written release of information from the client. The list of permitted disclosures certainly does not include the ability to sell your personal information for purposes of advertising, which is the charge against BetterHelp.
Apart from the Notice of Privacy Practices, clients are also provided with a document detailing Practice Policies and General Information. This document provides information on things like appointment reminders, the “no show” policy, office hours, who to contact in case of an emergency, confidentiality, good faith estimates, records requests, and so on. Both counseling services and psychological evaluations require a two-way contract; the provider pledges to maintain confidentiality, protect client information, and provide the best possible services within their scope of expertise. The client pledges to honor the provider’s time by canceling appointments 24 hours in advance rather than not showing up, engaging in the process to the best of their ability, and paying for services. On both sides, the boundaries put in place by the Notice of Privacy Practices and the Practice Policies & General Information are there to protect the therapeutic relationship between the counselor/psychologist and the client, in order to provide the best environment for working towards wellness.
Federal Trade Commission. (2023, March 2). FTC to ban BetterHelp from revealing
consumers’ data, including sensitive mental health information, to Facebook and others for targeted advertising. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2023/03/ftc-ban-betterhelp-revealing-consumers-data-including-sensitive-mental-health-information-facebook
Neporent, L. (2023, March 3). BetterHelp mental health app faces $7.8M FTC fine for
sharing private user data. Psychiatrist.com. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.psychiatrist.com/news/betterhelp-mental-health-app-faces-7-8m-ftc-fine-for-sharing-private-user-data/#:~:text=BetterHelp%2C%20a%20mental%20health%20app,advertisers%20for%20ad%20targeting%20purposes