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UPDATE: Action taken following major breach of personal health records at QEH

Tim Ching of Souris, a patient discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Wednesday, was surprised to learn that a former employee inappropriately view the personal health information of 353 patients at the hospital. “I definitely don’t like it,’’ he said. JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN
Tim Ching of Souris, a patient discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Wednesday, was surprised to learn that a former employee inappropriately view the personal health information of 353 patients at the hospital. “I definitely don’t like it,’’ he said. JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A top health official calls a former hospital employee’s inappropriate viewing of hundreds of patients’ personal health records an unprecedented breach.

Health P.E.I.’s acting chief executive officer Denise Lewis Fleming says the organization has never dealt with a privacy issue of this magnitude.

Lewis Fleming lauds a nurse manager for detecting the breach earlier this month.

An investigation ensued which determined a long-term employee had viewed the personal electronic files of 353 patients over the last three years.

Lewis Fleming says the former employee, who has been terminated, was a caregiver who worked with patients in various units of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

She adds the former employee chose not to reveal why he or she accessed the records. Lewis Fleming cannot speculate on the motive.

She adds no link has been identified among the hundreds of patients that had their personal files breached.

She notes there was no clinical requirement for the former employee to access the personal health records.

“This individual broke the rules, violating the privacy and confidentiality of Islanders who entrust our health care system and our staff to safeguard their personal health information,’’ says Lewis Fleming.

“This is unacceptable.’’

She adds Health P.E.I. does not have any reason to believe that patients’ personal health information has been further disclosed or misused, but the incident is still under investigation.

 

“It’s kind of surprising because people put their trust in people that work here and that was obviously breached. Hopefully they put more effort into who they hire.’’

-Airley Waterman

 

QEH patients and visitors to the hospital voiced concern Wednesday over news of the serious breach.

“It’s kind of surprising because people put their trust in people that work here and that was obviously breached,’’ says Airley Waterman of Charlottetown, a patient of the QEH.

“Hopefully they put more effort into who they hire.’’

Waterman says she would be upset if she learned that her personal information had been inappropriately accessed.

“Those things are personal and you put your trust in these people,’’ she says.

“That was a breach for a lot of people. So I’m sure it’s pretty much an uproar.’’

POLL: Do you feel your electronically stored personal information is secure?

Barb MacLean of Charlottetown, who was visiting a family member at the QEH Wednesday, says she would want the guilty party “nailed against the wall’’ if she learned a hospital employee had inappropriately viewed her personal health records.

Lewis Fleming says Health P.E.I. will inform all 353 patients by mail that their personal health information was inappropriately accessed. The majority of letters were sent out Wednesday.

“Ensuring the safety, privacy, and confidentiality of our patients is of utmost importance to us,’’ she says.

“We are incredibly disappointed that this unfortunate incident took place, and we sincerely apologize to everyone whose personal health information was inappropriately viewed.’’

She adds Health P.E.I. is working with all staff to ensure that they understand their duty to maintain the integrity of patients’ right to privacy and confidentiality that includes appropriate access of personal health information.

Lewis Fleming says the incident has been reported to the Charlottetown Police and to P.E.I. Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose.

Police could not be reached to comment on the matter Wednesday.

Rose was not available for an interview but her office noted the matter will be investigated.

“The Commissioner has opened a file under the Health Information Act,’’ says a statement from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

“At the end of her review, we expect that the commissioner will issue a report that will be available to the public.’’

Progressive Conservative MLA Colin LaVie is calling on the provincial government to answer for the breach.

“It is unacceptable that there has been no acknowledgement from the health minister and the premier on this most recent breach,’’ says LaVie.

“I cannot believe government failed to issue a public apology to the victims of this breach.’’

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