(June 24, 2011): Physicians and other health care providers should take care — wrongfully disclosed PHI (protected health information) and could land you in Federal prison. Earlier this week, Virginia osteopath was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia on charges that he illegally disclosed a former patient’s health information to the patient’s employer.
The Virginia physician was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury on the basis that he wrongfully disclosed PHI under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The physician reportedly faces a maximum of up to five years imprisonment if convicted.
According to the indictment, the physician practiced osteopathic medicine and served as Medical Director at a Virginia psychiatric care facility. The physician is alleged to have provided inpatient mental health treatment to a patient in 2007. As set out in a discharge summary from 2008, the physician indicated that the patient was not considered a danger to others. Nevertheless, on three separate occasions in February 2008, the physician allegedly disclosed, without any authorization, the patient’s individually identifiable health information to an agent of the patient’s employer. In these unauthorized disclosures, the physician falsely indicated that the patient was a serious and imminent threat to the safety of the public, when he allegedly knew that the patient was not such a threat.
Commentary: As this case shows, the Federal government is quite serious about health information privacy. It is essential that health care providers take affirmative steps to ensure that all of their staff – including physicians – are cognizant of both applicable statutory and regulatory requirements and their associated obligations with respect to protected health information. Effective training on HIPAA, HITECH and the restrictions governing disclosure should represent an important component of each provider’s Compliance Plan.
Liles Parker attorneys have extensive experience representing physicians and other health care professionals in government investigations and disciplinary actions. Our attorneys are also knowledgeable regarding HIPAA, HITECH and provider obligations under these statutes. Need assistance? Call us for a complimentary initial consultation. We can be reached at: 1 (800) 475-1006.