Hefty $25,000 fine levied in medical privacy breach

Brian-BeamishAn Ontario student has been fined $25,000 for accessing personal health information, which provincial officials say is the highest penalty of its kind ever in Canada. The Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office says the masters of social work student was on an educational placement with a family health team in Central Huron when she accessed the information without authorization.

A statement says the student, who was not named, pleaded guilty to accessing the personal health information of five individuals contrary to the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

As part of her plea she acknowledged she accessed the personal health information of 139 individuals between Sept. 9, 2014 and March 5, 2015.

“This kind of behaviour, whether it’s snooping out of curiosity or for personal gain, is completely unacceptable,” said Brian Beamish (pictured), Ontario privacy commissioner.

The commissioner’s office says it was told the woman was illegally accessing the records of family, friends, local politicians, staff of the clinic and other individuals in the community.

The statement calls the $20,000 fine and $5,000 victim surcharge handed to the student the highest fine to date for a health privacy breach in Canada, and Ontario Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish hopes it sends a message.

“Healthcare professionals need to know that this kind of behaviour, whether it’s snooping out of curiosity or for personal gain, is completely unacceptable and has serious consequences,” Beamish said in a statement. “Patient privacy is vital if Ontarians are to have confidence in their healthcare system.”

“It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of these violations of accessing personal health information,” said Justice of the Peace Anna Hampson in delivering her reasons for the sentence.

“The various victims have provided victim impact statements which are quite telling in terms of the sense of violation, the loss of trust, the loss of faith in their own healthcare community and the utter disrespect that [the student] displayed towards these individuals.”

The woman is only the fourth person convicted under Ontario legislation protecting health information since the law was enacted in 2004.

Source: CBC News