HIPAA Horror Stories

The Bill Collector Bungle

one-minute read

A prominent psychologist has been suspended after sharing patient mental health diagnoses with a debt collector.

The New Jersey Board of Psychological Examiners revoked the license of Barry Helfmann, Psy.D., managing partner of Short Hills Associates in Clinical Psychology, for two years.

The state also fined Helfmann $10,000 and required him to pay some investigative costs.

When practice clients bills went past due, Helfmann instructed his office staff to refer the patients to a collections contractor. The problem was, those “true bills” included diagnoses. Sharing diagnostic information with an unauthorized party is an unlawful HIPAA breach, as well as a violation of New Jersey’s psychology board code of ethics.

The bad news didn’t end there for Helfmann. The three-year investigation of Helfmann led to the identification of other violations listed in the state’s five-count complaint, including:

  • failure to demonstrate that patients understood their privacy rights
  • failure to maintain notes on each patient contact
  • failure to provide patient requested patient records in a timely manner

Helfmann was the past president of the New Jersey Psychological Association and president of the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

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