Island Health has reiterated its commitment to patient privacy in the wake of the second breach in a month.

Island Health has reiterated its commitment to patient privacy in the wake of the second breach in a month.

UPDATED: Island Health CEO pledges to do better after another snooping staffer fired

Health authority says confidential information about 34 Vancouver Island residents improperly accessed

Island Health is looking for new ways to increase the security of its data base after firing staff for the second time in less than a month for breaching patient privacy.

The Island’s health authority revealed July 8 that a support staff employee working in the Victoria area was let go after browsing the confidential records of nearly three-dozen Vancouver Island residents.

Coming in the wake of the largest breach in the organization’s history in June, Island Health CEO Brendan Carr issued a public apology and a pledge to do better.

“This is a very serious issue for us,” he said, calling the situation a gross breach of patient and public trust. “We have to do better and there are things we can do.”

Access to patient records is designed to be available only to those workers who need it in order to do their jobs. Carr said the sanctity of patient privacy is drilled into all such employees before he or she is given a password to access the system.

Once in the system, the employees must register and specify their relationship to the patient before opening any individual’s file. The recent violators were able to access restricted files by lying about relationships.

“It isn’t failsafe. Somebody can misrepresent themself,” Carr said. “We rely on professionalism and honesty.”

That said, once the false information is entered, it remains in the system and is subject to review.

An auditing program tracks who has accessed what and flags any potentially unusual interactions for further investigation. It was this process that flagged the latest violator, who was let go after an investigation tracking back to January of 2015 found 34 instances of records improperly accessed.

Carr said the health authority is looking at adding more triggers to the flagging process, things like people checking through records of people with the same last names, or accessing the system at certain times.

The individual responsible for the latest breach had been an employee for about 15 years, and was not a nurse nor a member of the medical staff. Island Health is in the process of informing those residents whose records were accessed about what happened.

In the previous incident, revealed on June 14, two other support staff workers were caught under similar circumstances after snooping into the records of 198 people, including family friends, co-workers and celebrities. It followed the revelation in the spring of 2015 of a central Island staffer who looked through the records of 39 people, and a fall 2014 revelation that two nurses accessed the personal info of another 112 individuals. The violators in all these instances were fired.

“There doesn’t appear to be any real motivation other than curiosity,” Carr said.

Given staff knowledge that a deliberate privacy breach of this nature will likely lead to a firing, and the ease of being caught, the CEO is surprised that anyone would take the risk. More troubling for him, however, is the breach of patient trust.

“I honestly can’t understand it. This is fundamental to who we are as an organization. People have to be able to trust us.”

At the same time, he points out that Island Health has about 19,000 employees and processes about 4,500 patients a day. While the recent instances are significant, he does not believe snooping is endemic.

Carr said patients deserve better.

“Our employees know it’s wrong to look at the private health information of patients when they have no legitimate reason to do so,” he said. “It saddens and disappoints me that the actions of a very, very small minority of our 19,000 staff violate the values and high ethical standards we all work towards.

For more information on Island Health privacy policies, click here.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rolled-over car was spotted in a ditch along Sooke Road near the border of Langford on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 24. (Black Press Media photo)
Car ends up in ditch along Sooke Road Sunday morning

Single vehicle spotted rolled-over just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 24

Oak Bay High Grade 10 students Oliver Wakely and Alex Joiner with the new scoreboard to soon be installed on the grass turf. Fundraising from the Oak Bay Barbarians rugby alumni and Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Oak Bay High alumni buy new scoreboard

Scoreboard to be installed on grass field

Steve Smith’s image of two sibling adolescent grizzly bears playfighting in the Chilko River in the B.C. Interior earned him best of show at the prestigious Lion’s Gate Celebration of Nature club competition for 2020-21. (Photo by Steve Smith)
Victoria Camera Club captures top spot in prestigious nature and wildlife competition

Saanich Peninsula photographers part of award-winning team

Downtown Victoria and the Inner Harbour are part of a corridor that also includes much of urban Saanich that is part of the Greater Victoria 2030 District, a sustainable buildings climate initiative announced recently. (Black Press Media file photo)
Ramping up energy efficiency in Greater Victoria buildings goal of new group

Greater Victoria 2030 District part of North American network of cities working to reduce emissions

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Most Read