Ca: Victim of privacy breach wants hospital to explain

Hugh Adami reports:

One would think The Ottawa Hospital would readily explain to Allyson Merrison how an X-ray technician — her husband’s ex-wife — was punished for electronically breaching her medical records six times over 10 months. But, says the hospital, privacy laws for its employees prevent it from revealing how it dealt with Teri Lynn Allan.

Merrison says Allan started accessing the records in July 2008, the month Merrison had a miscarriage. Before the miscarriage and for several months after, Merrison says Allan was trying to find out whether her former husband, Kevin Mulholland, was planning to have a family with his new partner.


Concerned the hospital didn’t take the case seriously and that Allan was hardly disciplined, Merrison turned last month to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner as well as the College of Medical Radiation Technologists of Ontario. Both have agreed to investigate. Merrison also filed a complaint with the hospital’s board of directors, but says she has not received a reply.


The nurse accessed the patient’s electronic health records 10 times over a six-week period, during and after her stay in hospital. The patient had alerted the hospital that it had to be vigilant in protecting her medical records. She was involved in bitter divorce proceedings and a custody battle for the couple’s children.

The hospital suspended the nurse without pay for four weeks, and the estranged husband for 10 days. The privacy commissioner ordered the hospital to review practices, procedures and protocol in dealing with patient health information. It was also ordered to ensure that steps were taken to stop continued unauthorized use of a patient’s file once a breach is detected. A spokesman with the Information and Privacy Commissioner says the nurse continued to access the woman’s records even after she was caught.

Read more on Ottawa Citizen.

This is a fairly common scenario as far as employee snooping cases go and I can understand why a patient whose privacy has been breached this way would want to know that strong measures were taken and that the offender was adequately punished. I also understand the hospital’s position that it cannot discuss personnel matters.

So what do you think? Do you think that such snooping, if as alleged in the news story, should lead to terminating an employee’s job? Do employees who engage in such conduct deserve any second chances or should healthcare settings have a true zero tolerance policy?

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  1. Anonymous - November 3, 2010

    I say a true zero tolerance is the way to go when it comes to patient information privacy. However, each incident has to be dealt case by case. Mistakes are bound to happen as long as humans involved but background of the person involved in such incident should determine the action the administrator must take. I say second chance has to be given but not for all. Because there are some irresponsible and negligent professionals as well.

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