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Ontario doctor suspended after accessing medical records of 20 patients he wasn't authorized to see: tribunal

A doctor holds files in this undated stock photo. A doctor holds files in this undated stock photo.
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An Ontario doctor had his licence temporarily suspended by a disciplinary tribunal after it found he had wrongly accessed patient records, including family members and colleagues, hundreds of times over the span of years.

Dr. Ashley John Mercado, a diagnostic radiologist who practised at various hospitals in Southwestern Ontario, admitted to professional misconduct and was reprimanded with a four-month suspension and $6,000 payment to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

A patient prompted an internal investigation into this “breach of privacy,” flagging concerns about the doctor’s unauthorized access to their medical history, in July 2021. According to an agreed statement of facts, Dr. Mercado used the electronic medical record system to access the information of 20 patients – all people he personally knew – between 2015 and 2021.

He conducted these searches hundreds of times, using his personal computer and hospital devices, and accessed personal health information, including patient visit history and the reasons for their visits, the documents state.

According to the agreed statement of facts, most of the searches targeted the patient who filed the complaint, their spouse and their child – totalling 484 searches, sometimes multiple times a day – particularly after a falling out with the patient in 2019.

These searches only stopped after the complaint was filed, an investigation was launched and a “denial of access” was placed on the physician, the documents note.

“Such unauthorized access by a physician poses a serious threat not only to patient privacy, but also to public trust in the health care system that is charged with protecting patients’ most private information,” the tribunal stated.

In the documents, the tribunal noted that Dr. Mercado was previously suspended from his hospital for three months in 2022 before returning to the hospital imaging department.

Since then, he has engaged in “extensive and meaningful remediation efforts,” the tribunal said, adding that there is “no evidence of any unauthorized access or incidents of concern since his return to the hospital imaging department almost two years ago.”

“Among other things, Dr. Mercado was required to complete eight individualized coaching sessions on ethics and professionalism, provide letters of apology to the 20 patients affected by his unauthorized access, and give notice of MAC’s recommendations to all hospitals where he held privileges at that time,” the documents note.

Dr. Mercado’s four-month suspension began on Feb. 9. He has been ordered to pay the college $6,000 by March 11.

His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment before publication. 

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