Island Health says staff snooped on 198 patient files

Island Health is once again notifying patients that their privacy has been breached.

Two Victoria-based employees looked at records of 198 patients from “a number of communities across Vancouver Island and beyond,” the organization said in a Monday statement. “Island Health’s investigation confirmed the employees used their access privileges to electronic health records about patients with whom they had no care relationship.”

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The employees no longer work for Island Health, the statement said. Island Health did not reveal what jobs the workers held or what relationship they may have had with the patients affected. Privacy legislation prevents Island Health from discussing specific personnel matters, it said.

The most recent investigation was started following a routine audit of employee access to electronic health record, the statement said.

“Steps were taken immediately to ensure the employees’ access to personal or confidential information was revoked and the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was notified.”

Island Health did not say when the audit or the breaches took place.

It is in the process of notifying patients whose privacy was breached.

Island Health said it is sorry for the serious breach of privacy. “There is extensive, ongoing education and awareness for staff and physicians that snooping in records is not acceptable.

“The bottom line is that unauthorized access to patient files is wrong — and our staff members know this.”

Staff members are only allowed to access patient records for work-related reasons under Island Health’s terms of employment, the statement said. Snooping contradicts the organization’s values and policies, it said.

This incident is the latest case of Island Health staff spying on confidential health documents in recent years.

A long-term health professional was fired in April last year for looking at electronic records of 39 patients, including family, friends and co-workers.

That employee worked in central Vancouver Island and the breaches took place between January and November 2014. The person viewed files of patients in a number of communities on the Island.

An earlier case was uncovered in October 2014 in which two nurses viewed electronic files of 112 patients. Again, the patients were family, friends and co-workers.

The nurses, who were fired, carried out their snooping between January 2012 and October 2014.

An Island Health official said the nurses did this to “satisfy their curiosity.” The nurses worked in the same area and each was believed to have knowledge of what the other was doing.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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