Judge Denies Injunction in Kaiser Permanente Patient Privacy Case
On Thursday, a state judge refused to grant Kaiser Permanente a preliminary injunction in a patient privacy case that would have forced a California couple to allow access to their personal computers and email account, the Los Angeles Times reports (Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 1/10).
State and federal officials are investigating whether Kaiser Permanente violated patient privacy rules through its work with Sure File Filing Systems, a small document storage firm run by Stephan and Liza Dean.
In August 2008, the Deans moved nearly 300,000 paper files from Moreno Valley to a warehouse in Indio.
According to emails sent by Kaiser to Sure File, hospital clerks routinely messaged the Deans and asked them to pull records on specific patients.
Stephan Dean said some emails from Kaiser employees contained patients':
- Full names;
- Dates of birth;
- Physicians' names;
- Social Security numbers; and
- Treatment dates.
Stephan Dean said Kaiser showed little concern for the security of patient data involved in the email requests. According to Dean, only one out of more than 600 emails from Kaiser had password protection with encryption.
In October 2012, Kaiser sued the Deans for allegedly violating their contract by not returning all patient information when the company reacquired the records two years ago.
According to the allegations, the Deans also put patient data at risk by leaving two computer hard drives in their personal garage with the door open (California Healthline, 1/7).
On Dec. 31, 2012, the Deans said that they had deleted all computer data related to Kaiser patients.
Decision on Injunction
At a hearing onÂ Thursday in Riverside County Superior Court, Kaiser sought a preliminary injunction that would have permitted a forensic consultant to access the Deans' computers and email account.
Judge Harold Hopp denied the injunction. Instead, he granted a smaller order that blocked the Deans from retaining and disclosing any confidential patient data.
Reaction to Ruling
A spokesperson for Kaiser said the decision meant that the health system "was likely to prevail on the merits of its ultimate claims against the Deans," adding that Kaiser would continue to pursue access to the couple's computers unless they "can provide absolute and verifiable assurances that they have returned or destroyed all protected information."
The spokesperson also said that Kaiser is working with state regulators on a plan to address patient privacy problems.
The Deans said they were pleased with the decision because theyÂ believe that giving Kaiser access to their computers would have been an invasion of privacy. Stephan Dean said that he is willing to allow an investigation into whether anyone hacked into patient data on his computers if Kaiser pays him.The health system said that it already has fully compensated the Deans for their work (Los Angeles Times, 1/10). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.