Lawsuits filed after former surgery resident views thousands of patient records without their consent.
Mayo Clinic is facing a lawsuit alleging a former surgery resident, Ahmad Al Sughayer, 28, of Saginaw, Michigan, snooped around in the medical records of three female patients, viewing nude photographs of them. The one-time resident allegedly viewed the records of 1,614 patients and was charged in April of this year with one count of unauthorized computer access.
Two of the lawsuits are seeking class action status “for the violation of patients’ privacy and the right to seek compensatory damages in excess of $50,000,” and have been filed in Olmsted County Court against both Mayo Clinic and Al Sughayer.
The plaintiffs claim Al Sughayer had no medical reason to access their files, and one of the suits alleges Mayo Clinic also “failed to use a feature in its electronic health records system that would have limited access to highly sensitive medical records and prevented the breach.” Another suit claims the clinic knew about the matter but didn’t tell the plaintiff nor take precautions to prevent it from happening.
Mayo Clinic said it launched an investigation and once it discovered Al Sughayer had viewed the information, it notified authorities. In a statement issued in October 2020, the company said, “Mayo Clinic is strongly committed to protecting the privacy of our patients, and we sincerely regret that this incident occurred.”
On October 5, Mayo Clinic’s Privacy Office sent letters to patients indicating an unnamed employee “had inappropriately accessed files with their name, demographic information, date of birth, medical record number, clinical notes, and, in some instances, images.” Because of the number of patients affected, Mayo Clinic staff notified police and the FBI, and reported the suspicious activity to “applicable licensing boards.”
One of the lawsuits was filed by Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick on behalf of Olga Ryabchuk of Olmsted County.
“I’m seeing a substantial increase in the number of cases involving improper access to health records at medical facilities around the state,” Tanick said. “It may be due to the greater accessibility of these records in digital form, as well as due to an increase in voyeurism.”
In the age of computers, it’s easier now more than ever to gain access to patient’s records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a federal law meant to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge, is more difficult to enforce despite the best efforts of providers.
Tanick said he is “working under the premise that Al Sughayer accessed the records to see intimate photos of patients undergoing treatments for things like skin conditions and breast cancer.”
Another class action suit was filed by attorneys Joshua Williams and A.L. Brown on October 22 on behalf of Amanda Bloxton-Kippola of Michigan and Chelsea Turner of Minnesota. It has yet to be determined whether anyone else notified about the unauthorized access will opt to pursue litigation, particularly if the class action status is granted.