A longtime Houston Methodist doctor is suing the hospital after he claims he was removed from his position for speaking out about alleged HIPAA violations.
The lawsuit filed June 7 alleges Houston Methodist had been secretly recording confidential conversations between doctors and patients without either of their consent for eight years.
Dr. Eric Haufrect, M.D., a 40-year OB-GYN at Houston Methodist, was approached by a nurse concerned with a technician altering her phone, according to the lawsuit.
“On October 20,2016, Plaintiff, Dr. Haufrect, was informed that the telephones at Houston Methodist Hospital were being electronically altered to record conversations between members of the staff and patients, without either’s consent,” the original petition states. “Dr. Haufrect was alerted to this potentially illegal act after a nurse reported a technician working on her phone had advised her what was being done. The nurse immediately reported her findings to Dr. Haufrect.”
The lawsuit alleges the doctor confronted resistant administrators about the practice and was defamed and retaliated against for doing so.
“If this hospital thinks they somehow have the authority to invade patient’s privacy, they’re wrong,” KHOU 11 legal analyst Gerald Treece said. “If they also think they’re not violating federal law, they’re wrong.”
KHOU 11 News reached out to Houston Methodist, asking if patients or doctors were notified their conversations were being recorded.
They responded with the following statement from Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom:
“Today we learned that Dr. Eric Haufrect, a longtime Houston Methodist physician, is suing us for alleged defamation after he was removed from the Houston Methodist Specialty Physician Group (HMSPG) vice chair position in obstetrics/gynecology.
"We are saddened and surprised by his actions, as we have enjoyed a collegial relationship with Dr. Haufrect for 40 years. At the beginning of this year, Dr. Haufrect was removed from this position for unfortunately choosing not to fulfill his obligations. This position is an appointed position in our physician group and when Dr. Haufrect joined he agreed that he could be removed as vice chair of the department at any time.
"In his lawsuit, Dr. Haufrect claims that he was removed as vice chair for reporting that his office phone lines were recording conversations between staff and patients. There was no retaliation—this is completely false. Recordings, which are legal under Texas law, are made on some appointment lines at Houston Methodist to improve patient service. However, after Dr. Haufrect raised this concern an investigation was immediately conducted and appropriate actions were taken.
"Let me assure you that there was no campaign to impugn Dr. Haufrect, who lost his leadership position because he did not fulfill his duties. In fact, I consider him a longtime friend and I am very disappointed by his actions. He remains a well-respected, active member of our medical staff, who receives the same salary and benefits from HMSPG as when he was vice chair.
Houston Methodist has strong and collaborative relationships with its physicians. We regret that Dr. Haufrect has chosen to take such a negative and spiteful action after a long-distinguished career.
"I expect to see this lawsuit reported in the media, and I will keep you posted on this disappointing news.”
Haufrect is seeking that his position at the hospital be reinstated and more than $1 million in damages.
Treece advises patients and former patients who may be concerned their private medical conversations were recorded without their permission to contact a lawyer.