A national hospital chain has learned that when the media targets you for an investigative report, defending yourself by revealing information about patients — even when you don’t name them — can cost you.
Prime Healthcare Services, based in California, has been fined $95,000 for allegedly releasing medical information about one of its patients who was featured in a investigative report by California Watch, a not-for-profit media organization that writes about healthcare in that state.
The California Department of Public Health levied the fines against Prime for allegedly revealing details of a patient’s medical record, even though it did not reveal the patient’s name, and for not reporting that it revealed the record as a violation of the state’s medical privacy laws.
California Watch had prepared an extensive investigation into Prime, implying the company’s hospitals were diagnosing patients with a malnutrition ailment, kwashiorkor, in order to capitalize on higher Medicare reimbursement rates for that condition.
According to the Orange County Register, the state found that Prime had illegally released its patient’s medical history in the following ways:
- In a letter to California Watch “that did not name Courtois, but cited information from her medical records, including lab results.”
- In a meeting with an editor from another news outlet who showed the investigator parts of the medical file.
- In a memo to employees that included the patient’s medical history, but did not name her. However the memo included a link to the California Watch article that did name the patient.