Privacy & Security
Improper sharing of personal information in referrals
November 15, 2017
HAY RIVER, NT – After receiving complaints that patient referrals were either delayed or not completed, the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority conducted an audit and found that patient information was inappropriately shared in referrals.
Erin Griffiths (pictured), CEO of the authority, told CBC News the issue came to light after patients notified the clinic that a referral hadn’t been handled properly. The authority audited all referrals ordered between Oct. 13 and Oct. 26, 2017 and found 41 “irregularities.”
The statement said 18 of those referrals were corrected and there was no impact on the patient. However, 21 patients are being contacted. “The irregularities found included instances where non-essential patient information was improperly shared with heathcare providers,” the statement says.
“This improper sharing of information constitutes a privacy breach and proper steps have been taken to notify the patients and the Northwest Territories Privacy Commissioner.” Griffiths said non-essential information would be data that would identify the patient, such as a name, address or phone number.
A review will go back six months, to April, 1, 2017, auditing the last six months of referrals out of the Hay River medical clinic. The authority says referral appointments are being rescheduled as soon as possible.
The health authority is bringing in additional staff to help complete the review of the patient files, which it expects will be complete by Dec. 15.
“We would like to apologize to any of our clients who received a delay in service, the Authority has taken appropriate steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Michael Maher, the authority’s public administrator, said in a statement.
N.W.T. providers have a history of privacy breaches. Over the last few years there have been several instances where patients’ information has been breached.
In 2016, dozens of patients in Inuvik were notified that their health records had been compromised.
In 2014, a doctor at Yellowknife’s Stanton Hospital lost a USB drive containing names, healthcare numbers and personal medical information for more than 4,000 patients. That same year the N.W.T. Department of Health mailed 195 health care cards to the wrong addresses due to a spreadsheet sorting error.
A few years ago the CBC North newsroom fax machine also received test results, on a number of occasions, containing patients’ medical information. In October, the territory’s privacy commissioner tabled a report saying the N.W.T. is still “far from compliant” with the Health Information Act.