Has Dr. Dunnavant violated HIPAA rules in VA-12? (UPDATED)

siobhan_dunnavantVirginia Right has the story and it doesn’t look good for Dr. Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant in Virginia’s 12th Senate race:

I received a copy of a letter Dr. Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant sent to her patients concerning her campaign for Virginia Senate in the 12th District. The picture below is a bit small to read, but a PDF version is available by clicking this link.

It would appear that Dunnavant has accessed her patient files and sent a letter telling them she is running for Senate and what to expect during the legislative session should she win the seat.

And then the letter goes on to solicit help and volunteers for her campaign along with the campaign website.

At the very end of the letter, we are told that the letter was paid for and authorized by “Friends of Siobhan Dunnavant” which is her campaign.

The letter includes an attachment from the recipient warning that the letter was sent in violation of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

News of this comes on the heels of Dunnavant going on the air earlier this week after struggling in a debate last week and seeing Bill Janis receive the endorsement of the NRA.

The biggest issue Dunnavant faces with this is the charge of hypocrisy against her campaign.

She’s been running as opposed to career politicians and as an answer to politics as usual (the doctor over the lawyers). The problem is, this move is absolutely politics as usual and something a career politico would do – further highlighting her THREE elected official siblings in the Hampton Roads area.

This also diminishes the “good doctor” image that Dunnavant has been trying to present, using her patient list for political purposes. It’s one thing to make patients aware of something that may limit your ability to practice – it’s another thing to turn that information into a political advertisement, a request for volunteers, and then use the practice’s patient portal as a means of communicating about your political activities. The letter is clearly meant to be political, not just informational doctor-patient communications, as it comes “Paid for and authorized by Friends of Siobhan Dunnavant.”

Dr. Dunnavant’s patients deserve an explanation as to why their private contact information was used by a political campaign. The voters in the 12th Senate District deserve to know why she would so blatantly violate HIPAA laws for her own personal gain.

Voters do deserve better than politics as usual in the Senate. Unfortunately, that choice may not be Dr. Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant.

UPDATE: The Dunnavant campaign responded in the comments with a message from campaign manager Chad Cole:

We are familiar with this inquiry and we are comfortable with our actions taken to ensure that the communication in question was appropriate and in line with all applicable guidelines. In response to concerns that she might be leaving the practice to pursue office, Dr. Dunnavant reached out to the practice’s patients to inform them of steps she was taking to ensure continuity of care. She felt it was important that patients understand she would remain with the practice, and that she would still be available to provide care. Dr. Dunnavant discussed the matter with both her practice and legal counsel and no violation of patient privacy took place.

-Chad Cole, Campaign Manager


5 thoughts on “Has Dr. Dunnavant violated HIPAA rules in VA-12? (UPDATED)

    1. We are familiar with this inquiry and we are comfortable with our actions taken to ensure that the communication in question was appropriate and in line with all applicable guidelines. In response to concerns that she might be leaving the practice to pursue office, Dr. Dunnavant reached out to the practice’s patients to inform them of steps she was taking to ensure continuity of care. She felt it was important that patients understand she would remain with the practice, and that she would still be available to provide care. Dr. Dunnavant discussed the matter with both her practice and legal counsel and no violation of patient privacy took place.

      -Chad Cole, Campaign Manager

  1. What a steaming pile. So it’s OK for lawyers to send political info to their clients, but not for doctors? Get real. And yes, it does affect her clients. If she wins, her hours will be reduced while the legislature is in session.

    Furthermore, she is not “[using] the practice’s patient portal as a means of communicating about [her] political activities,” but as a means of addressing anyone’s concerns.

    Get a grip.

    And yes, we would be well served by a having a doctor in the house.

    “Lawyers making laws are like doctors making diseases.”

    1. Lawyers aren’t bound by HIPAA regulations on the privacy of patient information. Unless you’re being purposefully obtuse on the approach to this you have to admit that this isn’t good.

      And reread the post. The author points out that he has a right to give clients a heads up on her work arrangement, but to turn it into a political solicitation is where the violation occurs, especially since this letter technically came from a third party: her campaign, not her practice.

      Stolle has some questions that need answering.

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