Former physician who practiced in 3 states admits to criminal HIPAA scheme

Frank Alario, 65, a former physician with medical practices in New Jersey, New York and Florida, on Oct. 7 admitted to wrongfully disclosing patients' protected health information, according to the Justice Department.

Mr. Alario, of Delray Beach, Fla., pleaded guilty to conspiring to wrongfully disclose patients' health information to pharmaceutical sales representative Keith Ritson in violation of the criminal provisions of HIPAA, the Justice Department said.

From 2014 to 2016, Mr. Ritson worked as a pharmaceutical sales rep who promoted compound prescription medications — specialty medications mixed by a pharmacist to meet the specific needs of patients. Compound drugs are not FDA approved, but they are properly prescribed when a physician determines that an FDA-approved medication does not meet the needs of a certain patient, such as if a patient is allergic to a dye, according to the Justice Department.

As part of the scheme, Mr. Alario gave Mr. Ritson access to his office, medical files and patient information, prosecutors said. The former physician said he allowed Mr. Ritson access into his office and to areas of the office restricted to staff, including areas with patient files and office computers.

Mr. Alario permitted Mr. Ritson to search patients' information to see if they had insurance that covered compound medications. Mr. Ritson then would allegedly highlight files so Mr. Alario knew whom to prescribe the medications, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said Mr. Alario also brought Mr. Ritson into exam rooms during appointments and gave patients the impression that he was employed by or affiliated with the medical practice. Mr. Ritson used patients' information to fill out prescription forms that Mr. Alario would authorize, and Mr. Ritson received commissions on those prescriptions, according to the Justice Department.

Mr. Alario faces a maximum of one year in prison and a $50,000 fine at his Feb. 7 sentencing.

Mr. Ritson will go on trial on Nov. 7. 

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