A former UCLA Health System researcher was sentenced to four months in prison for illegally perusing the medical records of co-workers and celebrities.
Huping Zhou will be the first person in the U.S. to go to prison for violating the medical privacy provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
Zhou is licensed as a cardiothoracic surgeon in China and worked as a research assistant at one of UCLA's facilities, which is not named in court documents. In October 2003, Zhou was notified that he would be terminated. Over the next three weeks he abused his access to the computer system to look up health information of patients, most of them celebrities and people Zhou worked with, he admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors.
There was no evidence that Zhou attempted to sell or otherwise improperly use anything gleaned from the records, the U.S. attorney's office noted in a news release. Another former UCLA employee, administrative specialist Lawanda Jackson, has pleaded guilty to selling information cribbed from celebrity health records to a tabloid. Jackson died before she was sentenced.
An investigation by the California Center for Health Care Quality indicated that the peeking was widespread, concluding that UCLA workers inappropriately accessed the records of 1,041 patients, and 165 employees were terminated, suspended or warned.