Back in February 2013, we learned of a horrific privacy breach in which a gynecologist had been secretly recording his female patients. His conduct had been reported to the hospital by a female co-worker and he was fired. The files were found in his home after he committed suicide. In March of 2013, some of his patients filed a potential class action lawsuit. Today, Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun reports that Johns Hopkins Hospital has reached a proposed settlement for a lawsuit filed last fall. The settlement involves $190million. As Fenton notes, the settlement, if approved, might be the largest of its kind: The settlement may be the largest of its kind. A class-action suit involving a Delaware pediatrician convicted of recording assaults on hundreds of children led to a $120 million settlement in 2012. That same year, a Connecticut hospital settled for about $50 million with 150 victims of an endocrinologist who used a medical study as a pretense to take obscene photographs of children. […] In court papers, plaintiffs also contended that Levy “engaged in doctor-patient boundary violations during the course of his patients’ treatment,” including “an excessive number of unnecessary pelvic exams and engaging in inappropriate physical contact.” Some said Levy practiced without medical professionals on hand as observers, a routine hospital practice for the safety of patients and doctors. Hopkins said it had identified more than 12,500 potential victims. Read more on Baltimore Sun. Associated Press provides additional coverage. Somewhat surprisingly, this incident does not seem to be recorded at all in HHS’s public breach tool. It’s therefore possible that OCR is still investigating this incident and that Johns Hopkins could be facing other consequences apart from the lawsuit.
Fears over a privacy breach involving a now-deceased doctor at Johns Hopkins are growing as word spreads about the breach. As reported by CBS, a number of Dr. Nikita Levy’s patients are worried that they may have been videotaped or recorded by him during gynecological or obstetrical visits and that the recordings may have been uploaded to the Internet. At the present time, there is no evidence that has happened, but some lawyers are recruiting patients for what promises to be some serious litigation as a result of the doctor’s actions. At least one lawyer, however, thinks that Johns Hopkins may escape liability if the doctor was not acting within the scope of his employment. Frustratingly, I still haven’t received any answer from Johns Hopkins clarifying their statement as their offer of counseling to patients. In the past, Johns Hopkins has done an admirable job of responding to breaches, and if they are not legally liable, I trust they will want to do the right thing for the affected patients. Their response to this breach will be particularly challenging, and counseling services – if they are genuine counseling or mental health services – could go a long way to mitigate harm.
Justin Fenton, Scott Dance and Jessica Anderson report on a nightmarish privacy breach for patients and a hospital: A Johns Hopkins gynecologist who was being investigated on allegations that he secretly recorded patients was found dead this morning at his home in Baltimore County, police and hospital officials confirmed. The doctor, identified as Nikita A. Levy, 54, was let go by Hopkins earlier this month when another employee alerted Hopkins security staff to the allegations, Hopkins officials said in a statement. They said Levy had been photographing patients with personal photo and video equipment. Kim Hoppe, a spokeswoman for Hopkins, said a “few patients” have been notified and a police investigation is ongoing. She said a call center had been set up for his patients to offer them counseling. Read more on Baltimore Sun. Offering his patients counseling sounds like an appropriate response, but I’m not sure what they intend in terms of the extent of counseling and whether they will make face-to-face counseling available with psychologists or psychiatrists. I’ve e-mailed the hospital to request more details on what this part of their breach response involves and will update this entry if I get a response. Update: I have not received any response from the hospital, despite two e-mail requests to them in the last 24 hours. The Washington Post, however, reports that the hospital, which first learned of the allegations on February 4, will be sending a second letter to patients. Update 2: I am still trying to get clarification on what their statement means by “counseling,” but Kim Hoppe, a hospital spokesperson, sent the following statement: After being alerted by an employee, on February 4, 2013, our security department at Johns Hopkins initiated an investigation of Nikita Levy, M.D., a Hopkins obstetrician/gynecologist. Within a day, we determined that Dr. Levy had been illegally and without our knowledge, photographing his patients and possibly others with his personal photographic and video equipment and storing those images electronically. At that time, in order to protect patient welfare, Dr. Levy was prohibited from any further patient contact. Johns Hopkins promptly reported this activity to the Baltimore City Police Department. In light of this information, which Dr. Levy acknowledged, we ended his employment on February 8 and offered him counseling services. We then sent a communication to Dr. Levy’s current patients to assure continuity of care and to help them reschedule appointments with another provider. Any invasion of patient privacy is intolerable. Words cannot express how deeply sorry we are for every patient whose privacy may have been violated. Dr. Levy’s behavior violates Johns Hopkins code of conduct and privacy policies and is against everything for which Johns Hopkins Medicine stands. We continue to work closely with law enforcement officials and will assist them in any way possible. Apart from a few individuals who have been notified, we are not aware at this time of the identities of any other people who may have been photographed by Dr. Levy. We are continuing to investigate. Tragically, yesterday we learned that Dr. Levy apparently has taken his own life. We send our condolences to his family and friends. Since this is an ongoing police investigation, we have been asked not to provide any more detail at this time. In order to ascertain the full extent of this matter, the Johns Hopkins Medicine Board of Trustees will be setting up a separate independent investigation which will work in tandem with law enforcement. The Board expects to name someone shortly to head up the independent investigation. We regard our patient’s right to privacy and professionalism as fundamental and foundational. We deeply regret any distress experienced by our patients and their families.