In a lawsuit filed Sept. 22, Madera, Calif.-based Valley Children’s Hospital alleges that three physicians inappropriately accessed patient records with the purpose of getting patients to switch healthcare providers.
Healthcare Informatics obtained a copy of the lawsuit via an online article published by The Fresno Bee.
Valley Children’s Hospital (VCH) and its affiliated Valley Children’s Specialty Medical Group filed the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court and allege that two physicians who were previously employed as pediatric pulmonologists at VCH, Dr. John Moua and Dr. David Lee, “without the knowledge, authority or consent of the parents and/or guardians of the patients, remotely accessed VCH’s cystic fibrosis patient records and obtained protected medical information from those records” in late August “for personal financial gain and commercial advantage.”
The lawsuit also alleges unfair competition.
Besides Dr. Moua and Dr. Lee, the lawsuit also names Dr. Paul Do and two medical groups, University Pediatric Specialists and Central California Faculty Medical Group. In the complaint, Valley Children’s Hospital states that Dr. Moua and Dr. Do currently practice with University Pediatric Specialists and Central California Faculty Medical Group and that “both corporations are knowingly receiving benefits and monetary advantages” from the physicians’ “wrongful activities.”
The lawsuit states that the physicians committed civil and criminal violations, including “unauthorized computer data access” and “conversion and misappropriation of patients’ confidential and legally protected medical information” in order to “misappropriate and divert patients for their personal financial gain and commercial advantage,” which has “put patients in harm’s way.”
The lawsuit states that the three physicians “used Spanish-language interpreters to contact Spanish-speaking family members of some of the pediatric cystic fibrosis patients” to make “false and misleading statements about VCH’s cystic fibrosis center.”
The lawsuit states that families were falsely told that Valley Children’s cystic fibrosis center is understaffed, was closed or is closing, that it could no longer provide high quality care due to a loss of physicians, that there was inadequate staffing and only one physician available, that grant money will no longer be available and that physicians had left to work at University Pediatric Specialists. Patients’ families were informed to pick up their records and move to University Pediatric Specialists, the lawsuit alleges.
And, Valley Children’s, in the lawsuit, also alleges that the physicians’ misappropriation of patients’ records and protected health information (PHI) is in violation of the United States Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
According to the Fresno Bee, the Central California Faculty Medical Group released an email statement saying that the physicians did nothing wrong. “The physician-patient relationship exists between the patient and the physician, not the patient and the facility,” the faculty medical group said in a statement as quoted by the Fresno Bee.
The lawsuit seeks exemplary and punitive damages of an unspecified amount, including for the misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, defamation and breach of contract.