HIPAA Violation Leads to Prison Term

Howard Anderson, Managing Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity.com

A former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon has been sentenced to four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.

Huping Zhou of Los Angeles is the first defendant in the nation to receive a prison sentence for a HIPAA privacy violation, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the central district of California.

Zhou pleaded guilty in January to four misdemeanor counts of violating the HIPAA privacy rule. He admitted obtaining individually identifiable health information without a valid reason.

The case dates back to 2003, when Zhou, a licensed cardiothoracic surgeon, received notice that he was being dismissed from his job. On the day he received the notice, Zhou accessed and read his immediate supervisor’s medical records and those of other co-workers, according to prosecutors. For three weeks, he continued illegally accessing patient records, including those of celebrities, accessing the patient records system 232 times.

In his plea agreement, Zhou admitted he read private electronic records on four occasions after he was formally terminated.

Prosecutors say there is no evidence Zhou improperly used or attempted to sell any of the information he illegally accessed.

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