In February of last year, U psychiatrists Stephen Olson and Charles Schulz approved the posting of a dead patient’s private health information to a public University website.
The patient, Dan Markingson, was the subject of a prominent inquiry into the department of psychiatry’s practice of recruiting vulnerable schizophrenic patients into drug experiments. In 2004, Markingson killed himself just months after signing up for one of Olson’s studies.
Throughout the course of the experiment, Markingson’s mother Mary Weiss watched her son’s gradual deterioration and begged Olson to stop working with him. After Markingson died, Weiss filed a complaint against the psychiatrist with the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. It included her personal, unlisted phone number and address, as well as Markingson’s protected health information. The Board dismissed the complaint after speaking with Olson.
When the state legislative auditor began to investigate the Markingson case again last spring, Olson and Schulz – then head of the psychiatry department – published Weiss’ complaint and the Board’s decision to dismiss it on a University website in self-defense.
In May 2015, Weiss filed another complaint with the state Board of Medical Practice against Olson and Schulz for breaching patient confidentiality. The postings were quickly removed, and medical school dean Brooks Jackson apologized to Weiss in a letter.
At the same time, Jackson covered for his psychiatrists and denied that the information posted was confidential.
“The documents were not sufficiently reviewed for privacy considerations prior to being posted,” Jackson wrote. “You should know that neither Dr. Olson nor Dr. Schultz were responsible for the posting of those documents. I do not believe you need to take any specific action to protect your privacy nor are you at any risk given that the information included in the reports is publicly available through other sources.”
One year later, the Board of Medical Practice has finally responded to Weiss’ complaint. This time, it investigated her allegations, put Schulz and Olson in front of a review committee, and found that they had indeed authorized posting privileged documents.
Last week, Olson and Schulz were reprimanded — an official slap on the wrist without corrective discipline. Olson still works at the U, while Schulz is listed as an emeritus professor. Both psychiatrists blamed an unnamed University attorney for suggesting that they release Markingson’s medical information.
The University has not responded to data practices requests for that attorney’s identity.
In May 2014 a second schizophrenic patient of Olson’s, testified that he too had been coerced into a drug study while on a 72-hour psychiatric hold in 2007. In his defense, Olson told media that the patient, Robert Huber, had a medical history of “extreme anxiety and paranoia, a history of head injuries and lengthy battle with alcoholism.”
He has not been disciplined for it. A U attorney, Lori Ketola, ruled afterward that it was all right for Olson to have disclosed that information.