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B.C. health ministry to patch holes in medical record security

B.C.'s Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham ordered the province's health ministry to improve privacy controls for medical records.
Image Credit: Source/B.C. Privacy Commissioner
June 26, 2013 - 3:06 PM

B.C.'s health ministry was ordered by the province's information commissioner to improve its privacy controls following three huge data breaches involving the personal records of millions of British Columbians.

B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham reported on Wednesday the health ministry was given 11 security recommendations to better safeguard medical data. This was the result of an investigation that found on three occasions several ministry employees allegedly shared medical records without authorization with private contractors and researchers, sent unencrypted data when it should have been encrypted and passed on personally identifiable information when it should have been non-identifiable. The three breaches involve 4.5 million medical records and 38,486 individuals.

It has been reported seven ministry employees have been fired or suspended as a result of the breaches.

Interior Health was asked for comment on medical record security but they declined. They stated it would not be appropriate as the incidents happened outside their jurisdiction.

Dr. David Paisley, president of the Penticton Medical Staff Society offered a brief comment. He said medical professionals need to appreciate they are guardians of patients' information.

Denham said the public supports the health ministry collecting data and using it for medical research but the public can expect their personal details to be better managed. The office will be investigating the ministry every three months to check on its progress.

The first incident took place in 2010 when personal health numbers, disease and prescription history for certain drugs were stored on a USB stick and shared with a researcher without approval. The data did not include names, SIN, addresses or any financial information.

The next two incidents took place in June of last year. One was the unauthorized sharing of health numbers, genders, age groups, length of hospital stays and amounts spent on various categories of health care for more than five million individuals to a ministry contractor.

The next was the health data of 38,486 individuals being shared. Included was the personal health numbers, gender, date of birth and postal codes as well as information from Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey. Survey information collected individuals’ health status, mental, physical and sexual health details, lifestyle information and use of health services. Personal names, SIN, street addresses and financial information were never included in the file.

The privacy office stated giving out this information breached the agreement between the ministry and Statistics Canada.

To contact a reporter for this story, to send photos or videos, email Shannon Quesnel at squesnel@infotelnews.ca, call 250-488-3065 or tweet @shannonquesnel1

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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