Lehigh Valley Health Network has fired an internist after determining he delivered personal information, including names, addresses and health insurance information, on thousands of patients to another network to which he was applying.
LVHN released Dr. Mark Kender after he gave out the information on more than 2,200 patients to a "concierge" medical network called MDVIP, said LVHN spokesman Brian Downs. The Network sent letters to Kender's patients explaining why he was dismissed, Downs said.
LVHN asserts releasing patient information could be a violation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Violations of the law could generate a civil lawsuit and, in some cases, criminal charges. MDVIP denies it broke what is known as the HIPAA.
In a statement, LVHN said it was ending its relationship with Kender through Lehigh Valley Physician Group, an affiliate of the network, following "the unauthorized disclosure of demographic information about many LVPG patients being treated by him." According to the statement, the information included patients' names, genders, addresses, ages, dates of birth, telephone numbers and types of health insurance. Downs said medical records were not included in the release.
The information was provided to MDVIP, a physician network based in Florida, in April, Downs said, and LVHN learned of it this summer. LVHN then began an investigation, and Kender eventually admitted to providing demographic records to MDVIP, Downs said.
"Our physicians, employees, other staff and volunteers are trained to follow our patient privacy policies and government regulations, which outline rules for both protecting and sharing patient information," the statement said. It also said LVHN took "reasonable steps" to protect patients' information.
Attempts to reach Kender were unsuccessful. A receptionist at his former office said he was no longer working there and referred callers to LVHN's help line, 610-402-CARE.
LVHN contacted Kender and MDVIP, which is based in Boca Raton, and ordered them to "protect the information from further use or disclosure and to destroy it," the statement said.
Kender, who was with the physician group since 2003, no longer has privileges at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Downs said. He did not affiliate with MDVIP, according to a federal court filing.
The physician group in October filed a federal lawsuit against MDVIP, claiming its patient lists are confidential and that disclosure of the information puts it at a competitive disadvantage. In its response, MDVIP denied it misappropriated "trade secrets," adding "the data was used and disclosed in full compliance" with privacy laws.
Nancy Udell, a spokeswoman for MDVIP, said the network has 450 affiliated physicians nationwide. It provides care that focuses on prevention, as well as diagnosis, treatment and management, she said in an e-mail, "as opposed to more traditional primary care models which are more reactive in nature."
According to the court filings, individuals pay a $1,500 "retainer fee" to join and receive preferred medical services. Doctors are limited to 600 patients. MDVIP works with most insurers and Medicare, it says.
According to MDVIP's court filing, Kender obtained data on 2,267 patients from the physician group's practice manager. MDVIP contacted about half of them for an automated telephone survey. In June, the court papers say, the physician group's top management, including Dr. Debbie Salas-Lopez, head of the Department of Medicine, met with MDVIP representatives to consider cementing a business relationship.
A deal failed to materialize, and MDVIP returned the data to the physicians group, even though it was "fully entitled to be in possession of this data," MDVIP's court filing says.
In her e-mail, Udell did not address the Kender issue, only saying he is not affiliated with MDVIP.
The Office of Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees the privacy law, HIPAA. According to the American Medical Association, monetary fines for HIPAA violations could reach an annual maximum of $1.5 million, depending on the number of violations and intent. No one responded to a phone message left at the HHS Philadelphia regional office.
"The HIPAA rule is not limited to just health information," said Darlene Kauffman, associate director of payer relations for the Pennsylvania Medical Society. "It includes information that would indicate that a person has in the past received treatment, currently receives treatment or will receive treatment in the future."
Patient information in this case would be property of the Lehigh Valley Physician Group, she said. "It's not [Kender's] to give," Kauffman said.
"We want Dr. Kender's patients to know that we are deeply sorry for his actions," the LVHN statement said. Patients who have questions or want to schedule an appointment with another group physician should call the help line, 610-402-2273, it said.