Hospital Denied Access to Its Own Records

     MILWAUKEE (CN) – A computer firm is “jeopardizing the health and safety of about 40,000 people” – many of them uninsured or underinsured – by freezing a hospital out of access to its own medical records because of a billing dispute, the hospital claims in court.
     Milwaukee Health Services sued Atlanta-based Business Computer Applications, in Federal Court.
     Milwaukee Health Services Inc. “specializ(es) in the care of underserved populations,” the hospital says in its complaint. It says it “serves everyone regardless of income or third party coverage.”
     The hospital claims the defendant performed an unauthorized remote disconnection from the hospital’s local servers that house its patient data. It says the IT company refuses to restore computer service unless the hospital pays it $285,000.
     “As a result of this unauthorized access to Milwaukee Health Services’ servers, since July 1, 2013, Milwaukee Health Services has been unable to access patient records for purposes of providing treatment, jeopardizing the health and safety of about 40,000 people,” the complaint states.
     The patient records contain clinical notes, medical specialist authorization requests, medication lists, problem lists, allergy reports, pediatric immunization records, obstetric documents, hospital records, surgical and consultation reports, pre-op documents, mammography and radiographic reports and chronic disease treatment plans, the hospital says.
     Milwaukee Health Services seeks damages for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and of a Wisconsin law “which requires the release of patient records to health care providers when the provider is rendering assistance to patients, the provider is consulting patients regarding their health, the patient’s life is in danger and the information is needed to render assistance and the provider prepares or stores those patient records.”
     The nasty dispute comes at the end of a 24-year relationship.
     The hospital has paid Business Computer Applications since 1999 to handle service, maintenance and hardware, and to develop a Clinic Management System for the hospital, according to the complaint. The system would take care of appointment scheduling, patient billing, and accounts receivable.
     In 2008, the hospital began paying BCA to develop and install an electronic medical record system, known as the Pearl EMR, which was to be integrated with the Clinic Management System.
     Milwaukee Health Services says it has paid BCA $3,083,607.64 since 2008, but the system has never been fully functional. The hospital claims there were problems with implementation, and the system didn’t comply with HIPAA and other requirements.
     When the Pearl EMR agreement expired on June 30, the hospital says, it decided to change to another product, known as GE Centricity.
     The hospital says it tried to work with Business Computer Applications on a licensing extension to avoid disruption in service, but BCA company reneged on its promise to provide the hospital with a jump drive for access to its records, and to keep connectivity to the system in place.
     Instead, counsel for BCA sent a “final pre-litigation notice” on June 5, and demanded $285,097.03 for services and products that allegedly remained unpaid.
     The hospital claims BCA refused to provide proof of the debt, then remotely disconnected the hospital from its local servers.
     The hospital claims it has suffered more than $75,000 in damages from the unauthorized shutdown. It seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, punitive damages and costs.
     It is represented by Barbara Zabawa with Whyte Hirschboeck & Dudek of Milwaukee.

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