Johns Hopkins responds to serious patient privacy breach (update 2)

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.

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