By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
There’s progress in the strange saga of a missing Palisadian ophthalmologist this month, though the developments also pose new questions about Dr. Mark Sawusch and his patients’ confidential medical information.
At least three former patients have now received copies of their medical records—documents that had been unattainable for months after Sawusch swiftly retired from his Via De La Paz practice last summer.
After months of corresponding with the California State Medical Board, Palisadian Ezio Piaggi was one of the first to have his records scanned and emailed to him by a man that board officials say has power of attorney over Sawusch’s affairs.
That individual, Anton David, is a Santa Monica-based hair stylist and producer with no readily apparent ties to Sawusch’s former practice.
The board declined to comment on the specifics of the arrangement—including questions about David’s qualifications to handle medical documents, confirm patients’ identities and transmit them electronically.
Board investigators did tell the Palisadian-Post that patients should reach David through the same means as Piaggi, by emailing email@example.com.
David did not respond to contact from the Post at that address.
The unconventional arrangement is the latest in a string of unusual circumstances surrounding Sawusch’s retirement.
Public arrest records revealed in August that the doctor had been arrested on five occasions in the time shortly before and after leaving his practice. The alleged misconduct ranged from damaging passing vehicles on PCH to accosting passersby on the Santa Monica Pier.
Meanwhile, his office door collected notes from patients seeking medical records. Patients, colleagues, creditors, building management and the Post could not reach the doctor by phone or at home.
After the Post published an investigation of the incident, more than a dozen former patients contacted the paper to add their names to the list of those waiting to receive medical documents.
The Post also heard from patients and colleagues who were concerned for the doctor’s well being. The longtime ophthalmologist had good standing in professional associations and a 30-year track record.
Without an explanation from the Medical Board, parsing the arrangement to distribute his
records with the dense language of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is
The law does state that patients have a right to receive records via “unsecure means” like unencrypted email if they request it. It also states that practices must take “reasonable steps to verify the identity of an individual making a request,” but it does not outline those steps in concrete terms.
HIPAA training—a relatively simple qualification—is mandatory for employees that handle patient health information. It’s unclear if David is a former Sawusch staffer who at one time received the training.
LA-based patients’ advocate Martine Brousse told the Post that if David was a former employee, it was possible his handling of the records followed patient privacy laws. But even then, she said, questions remained about where the records are being kept, how patient identities are verified and whether the information is ultimately secure.
“It’s a scary thought,” she said of the uncertainty surrounding the arrangement.
Palisadian physician Damon Raskin agreed that the set-up was “bizarre.” Without a clearer explanation, he added, there was at least potential for “a huge HIPAA violation.”
Raskin did add a hopeful note for patients who choose not to pursue the records: The PHI kept by an eye doctor is likely easier to piece together or even start over from scratch than that of a general practitioner with records of a broader nature.
While former patients transition to new doctors, Sawusch’s medical license is still valid through August 2018. The board declined to comment on its investigation into his alleged misconduct.
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