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Workplace Privacy, Data Management & Security Report

Jail Time Under HIPAA for Snooping UCLA Doctor

Health care providers beware – curiosity about patients can put you in jail.

According to NBC News, Huping Zhou, a licensed cardiothoracic surgeon in China, who worked at the UCLA School of Medicine as a researcher, will serve four months in prison for snooping into medical records back in 2003. This follows Mr. Zhou’s guilty pleas earlier this year to criminal charges under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

In many cases, the snooping incidents involved celebrities. According to the NBC story, investigators claim Zhou “accessed UCLA patient records at least 323 times during one three-week period in 2003.”

This case together with recent amendments to HIPAA highlight the need for HIPAA covered entities to be more thorough and recurrent in their training of employees and other workforce members, as well as in their monitoring of access to confidential information. While safeguards and policies cannot prevent all breaches, they can go a long way toward reducing these kinds of incidents and the reputational harm that follows.