Manitoba nurse fined $1,000 for privacy breach

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A Manitoba nurse has been fined $1,000 for inappropriately accessing confidential patient information, the latest in a string of privacy breaches in recent years.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/05/2017 (1953 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Manitoba nurse has been fined $1,000 for inappropriately accessing confidential patient information, the latest in a string of privacy breaches in recent years.

The College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba isn’t releasing details about what information the female nurse looked at or why, but makes clear in a written decision posted online late last week that she was trained on what constitutes appropriate use of the database system and what she did not qualify.

“This is probably about what we have seen before,” the college’s executive director Katherine Stansfield said when asked about the severity of the privacy breach. “It’s certainly not at the extreme end of either of the continuums.”

AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra

The nurse’s employer discovered the inappropriate access through an audit and, per regulations, passed the information along to the college, which took action. While some past snoopers have admitted being motivated by a desire to send out greeting cards or sheer curiosity, Stansfield said confusion could also be to blame.

“Unfortunately, there are times when members do not have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and act outside of what they are authorized to do,” she said.

There’s no evidence to suggest the nurse’s actions caused any particular harm to the public, the college said in its decision, but “there is potential for harm to the profession a whole. Inappropriate access undermines the public’s trust. Any breach of this trust, even inadvertent, damages the general trustworthiness of the profession of nursing.”

As such, the nurse was fined and her censure published online in order to act as a deterrent to other health-care workers. She is the first nurse to be censured by the college this year. In 2016, the college censured a nurse for providing a volunteer with unauthorized access to private medical records.

The year before that, four nurses were censured for similar privacy breaches: one for providing one patient with another’s confidential information, another for looking up confidential information and then sharing it “with others,” a third for failing to abide by the Personal Health Information Act and a fourth for sharing unauthorized personal information with other health-care workers. While nurses have mostly avoided being publicly implicated in some of Manitoba’s more high-profile privacy breaches, one was disciplined last year by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority after 67 confidential patient records were stolen from her car during a house call.

It’s crucial health-care workers maintain the privacy of their patients, a spokeswoman for the Manitoba Ombudsman said via email, saying “intentional privacy breaches such as snooping are particularly serious.”

Although the Ombudsman’s office has no real method of detecting whether such breaches are on the rise or decline, she said audits of electronic systems help officials find and publicize breaches.

“Before we had automated health records, we probably wouldn’t have had as clear a trail of individuals who might actually have accessed information,” Stansfield said. “Because we have audits, we have a system that’s very vigilant, and I think the public is well-served by the kind of work we’re able to do to ensure that when there are breaches, we’re able to find them.”

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @Jane_Gerster

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