LOS ANGELES, CA – January 8, 2010 – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced that a former UCLA Healthcare System employee pleaded guilty to four counts of illegally reading private and confidential medical records, mostly from celebrities and other high-profile patients.
Huping Zhou, 48, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty prior to a trial to four misdemeanor counts of violating the federal privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Appearing before United States Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Wistrich, Zhou admitted to knowingly obtaining individually identifiable health information without a valid reason, medical or otherwise. Zhou becomes one of the first people in the nation to be convicted of violating the privacy provisions of HIPAA.
Zhou, who is a licensed cardiothoracic surgeon in China, was employed in 2003 at UCLA as a researcher with the UCLA School of Medicine. On October 29, 2003, Zhou received a notice of intent to dismiss him from UCLA for job performance reasons unrelated to his illegal access of medical records. That night, Zhou, without any legal or medical reason, accessed and read his immediate supervisor’s medical records and those of other co-workers. For the next three weeks, Zhou’s continued his illegal accessing of patient records and expanded his illegal conduct to include confidential health records belonging to various celebrities. According to court documents, Zhou accessed the UCLA patient records system 323 times during the three-week period, with most of the accesses involving well known celebrities.