Nine St. Joseph's/Candler employees snagged in medical information breach

Eric Curl reports:

Nine St. Joseph’s/Candler employees were punished after a digital image of a patient’s anatomy was photographed, texted by cell phone and posted to Facebook.

In all, three employees have been fired, three have been written up, and three have been suspended without pay.

Eight of those disciplinary actions occurred Wednesday. Another hospital employee was disciplined this summer after an investigation showed them to be involved with electronically sharing the images – a digital image of a male patient’s pelvic region. That person later left their job, according to St. Joseph’s/Candler. Hospital officials declined to provide the names of any of the employees.

An investigation started late last month after the Savannah Morning News received a copy of two images of the X-ray, one of which included the patient’s first name and middle initial. Hospital officials are adamant the images received by the newspaper, while of the same patient, are not the same ones posted to Facebook, which they said did not include any identifiable patient information.

Because the distributed images viewed by hospital investigators contained no personal information, the actions were determined to be only violations of hospital policies and not federal patient privacy protection laws.

Read more in the Savannah Morning News.

If the image was so novel/unusual as to warrant being sent from employee to employee or posted to Facebook (even without the patient’s name), can a hospital really be sure that the patient is not identifiable?

Does the transmission from unauthorized employee to unauthorized employee via cell phone and text messages constitute separate HIPAA-reportable privacy violations?

And is there a HIPAA violation that an identifiable image was sent to the newspaper?

I would think that although a hospital might see this as all part of one privacy concern/situation, there may be a number of privacy and security concerns here that a hospital needs to address.

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  1. Anonymous - December 20, 2010

    A digital image of a male pelvic region — gee, are we in elementary school? If you’ve seen 5, you’ve seen all you need to know. You’ll find more in Playgirl. No wonder the Europeans laugh about US’s “child-like obsession with sex.” Time to grow up.

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