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Health Privacy Update: Snooping and the employee who maintained “wazzn’t me”

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This is a summary of the new Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario‘s Decision 109, which deals with snooping.

Six months after an employee left her employment at a family health clinic, a patient of the clinic complained she suspected the employee had looked at her patient’s record. That prompted the clinic to do an investigation. The clinic found that the former employee had viewed the patient’s record without authorization and found evidence that the former employee had looked at other patients’ records too.

The clinic reported the breaches to the affected patients and to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

What ensued during the IPC’s investigation sounds like:

Former Employee: wazzn’t me

Clinic: OMG. it totally was you! Look we have these 20 pages of audit logs!

Former Employee: wazzn’t me – someone must have used my login and password – everyone knew my login and password

IPC: BIG EYES

Clinic: you’re the only admin staff who had remote access – even if other staff had your login and password (which we don’t think they did) – they didn’t have remote access to the system

Former Employee: wazzn’t me

Clinic: see this IP address? it’s the only IP address for all these remote accesses. We think that matches your home IP address.

Former Employee: silence … well then, I was allowed. It was part of my job.

Clinic: WHAT? That’s a “blatant falsehood” – it was not part of your job to check up on the doctors. ARGH!

BUT ALSO it sounded like …

Former Employee: wazzn’t me

Clinic: OMG. It totally was you! Look we have these 20 pages of audit logs!

Former Employee: wazzn’t me – I was out of the country during some of those dates and times – look, here are the receipts for my trips – and the audit logs show the access came from “inside”

Clinic: OH. silence…wait a minute … maybe it was the Clinic Manager who used your login and password to check your work.

IPC: BIG EYES

BUT ALSO it sounded like …

IPC: Did you take any personal health information home with you or off site?

Former Employee: wazzn’t me

IPC: Um, so about these emails you gave us as part of your submissions to prove your innocence – why did those emails include patient information? Why do you still have those emails 2 years later after you left your employment with the clinic? Why did those emails come from your personal gmail account?

Former Employee: Oh, that was part of my job. I had to use my personal gmail account because I couldn’t attach reports from the clinic email

IPC: BIG EYES. … Um clinic, is this true?

Clinic: Oh ya – that’s true. We knew she used her gmail account for work. But we didn’t know she kept those emails for all these years.

IPC: BIG EYES

Former Employee: Don’t worry, I have deleted those now.

Analysis

No one came out of this unscathed.

The IPC ordered the former employee not to use or disclose any personal health information any more.

The IPC dismissed the former employee’s allegations that the clinic was harassing her by filing the report with the IPC. The IPC concluded it was a mandatory report to the IPC and there was no evidence of improper reporting.

The clinic is being investigated by the IPC for additional issues:
1. Why does it let its clinic manager use a staff member’s email address to check requests when employees are away?
2. Why does it let employees use personal email addresses to communicate personal health information of patients?

Unfortunately, the order does not discuss reparations for the affected patients.

Bottom Line for Health Sector Staff:

1. Do not go into health records when it’s not part of your duties.
2. Do not share your passwords with others.
3. If you do share your passwords with others – you may have a really hard time explaining that the audit logs of unauthorized activity are not your doing. Just don’t.
4. When you leave a health workplace – do not keep anything related to patient information or records. Return all personal health information to your former employer/workplace whether it is electronic or paper.

Bottom Line for Health Care Organizations:

1. Do not allow staff to share login credentials and passwords.
2. Do not allow staff to use their personal accounts to communicate patient information.
3. Add to your staff confidentiality agreements “After you leave our workplace, you must not keep, use or disclose any personal health information in any format. Any paper or electronic copies must be securely returned or destroyed/deleted.”
4. Do not allow your supervisors or managers to use other staff members’ login credentials to your electronic information systems to perform supervisory tasks.
5. When you are doing a privacy investigation collect all relevant information. If someone says “wazzn’t me” investigate their story and follow up on all leads. Even if you know there was a privacy breach of some records – get to the bottom of all data points. You look foolish if the employee can show some of the allegations really weren’t them (like if they were out of country).

This is a must read for Privacy Officers.

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