Ca: Health worker loses job after prying into patient files

Gordon Delaney reports:

A Capital Health employee has lost her job after prying into confidential patient medical files and later telling one of those patients she couldn’t trust herself not to do it again.

The patient, Mary Schinold, wants answers about the breach of privacy involving health records at Hants Community Hospital in Windsor.

Schinold and 14 other patients received letters from the Capital district health authority informing them that an employee accessed their personal files without a valid medical or hospital purpose.

The Dec. 30 letter, from Capital Health privacy officer Judith Emery, said the authority received information last October of inappropriate accessing of patient information, leading to an internal audit that identified the employee.

Read more on The Chronicle Herald.

Certainly this is not the first time we’ve heard of a snooping case. But I can’t recall another case where the employee then emailed the affected patients to apologize. It’s not clear how the employee even got their email addresses at that point, but I think that if I were a patient, that might spook me. Even if the former employee meant well in apologizing, unsolicited email might make me worry about future contacts.

Healthcare facilities handle breaches in ways that attempts to mitigate harm to those affected within the confines of employee privacy requirements. If you read this whole article, you’ll that once again, the standard type of disclosure or breach notification is not satisfactory to those affected. Some are really stressed out over this and want/need more information. Reassuring them that the hospital doesn’t   think their info has been shared or misused isn’t assuaging their worry. In this type of situation, patients may want to know, “Why did the employee view my records and not others’?” “Is it true that copies of patient records were found in the employee’s home? If so, were mine among them?”

There are certainly are a number of questions raised by this breach. According to the employee, the breach(es) occurred “last summer,” and by July (and to her credit), she had requested and taken a 6-month leave from work because she says she couldn’t trust herself not to engage in such behavior again. The hospital, however, did not become aware of the breach until October, when other staff communicated their suspicions and an investigation was opened. Why the gap?

Capital Health will be “implementing software that can flag such issues in the future,” according to a spokesperson. Given how problematic employee snooping can be, all hospitals need a way of flagging inappropriate access to patient records.  And then hospitals need to train/warn employees that such monitoring is in effect and if they attempt to access records improperly, they will be caught and terminated.

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