Hospital fires employee who provided patient's syphilis records to ex-boyfriend

Over the weekend, more details emerged about the breach at U. of Cincinnati Medical Center that resulted in a patient’s syphilis diagnosis being posted to Facebook. The new details do not totally agree with claims in the woman’s lawsuit. Robert Scalese reports:

According to the hospital, it was a financial services employee who accessed the files. He was fired and the hospital reported the incident.

“We are outraged that anyone might misuse a position with UC Health to attempt to embarrass or cause harm to another person. This is contrary to our ethic and the training we provide to our associates, and we took immediate action as a result,” wrote UC Medical Center President Lee Ann Liska in the statement.

The hospital said no other individuals were involved in accessing the personal file.

UCMC’s full statement on the incident can be found here.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind, I suspect, that this is a nightmare breach for the patient and the covered entity. So let me just ask: did a financial services employee really need to have access to the diagnostic records? If so, what else can a covered entity do to prevent this type of thing? And if not, what should the covered entity have done to limit access?

In this case, the patient is seeking $25,000 in compensation, which I suspect the UCMC would be happy to pay to make this case go away, as the bad press they are receiving is worth a lot more than that. But if they decided to fight the lawsuit (which I don’t expect), would the patient prevail? We’ve already seen one case in New York where a court held that a clinic was not liable for the bad actions by an employee in a similar type of situation (disclosure of STD status), because the employee was not acting within the scope of their duties at the time of their wrongdoing. Could the same thing happen here?

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