Posted Feb 20, 2013 09:22 pm CST
Raising the prospect of a major privacy issue for a leading medical center, authorities say a gynecologist and obstetrician believed to have committed suicide earlier this month after being fired by Johns Hopkins used personal equipment to take secret photos and videotapes of his patients.
A sex crime investigation is being conducted by Baltimore police after the death of Dr. Nikita Levy, and they are seeking to interview his patients from the past 20 years, the Baltimore Sun reports. The cause of Levy’s death also is under investigation, although some media accounts say a note was found.
A separate investigation concerning the photos is being conducted by Johns Hopkins. The newspaper says a colleague of Levy’s reported the allegations to Hopkins officials on Feb. 4, and the hospital fired him on Feb. 8. In a written statement issued on Monday, the hospital apologized for what it called an “intolerable” invasion of privacy.
Levy reportedly used a camera concealed in a pen to take at least some of the photos, and police said they found an “extraordinary” amount of evidence at his home in Towson, Md. The feds are now assisting in the analysis of the evidence.
A Washington Post article says images filled nearly 10 computer hard drives removed from Levy’s home by police.
Citing attorney-client privilege, Levy’s lawyer, Ken Ravenelle, declined to comment. “The only thing I can say is, we should all be mindful that he’s never been charged with any crime,” he told the Post.
Whether and to what extent the medical center could face legal liability for the claimed invasion of patient privacy will depend on the facts and circumstances, experts say, including whether women—or underage patients—are identifiable in images retained by Levy. Also at issue could be whether Johns Hopkins had any reason to know of the photos and whether they were taken within the scope of the physician’s employment, the Sun reports.
A WJZ article says there is federal involvement in the investigation to determine what may or may not have been posted on the Internet. However, worried patients may never know for sure whether their privacy has been violated.
As a HealthITSecurity post points out, Levy’s reported collection of patient data also implicates federal HIPAA regulations.