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

Geoff Garbutt takes over as City of Courtenay CAO on April 14. Photo supplied
Courtenay council selects new city CAO

A new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) will be joining the City of… Continue reading

Two vehicles collided Wednesday morning north of Courtenay on the Old Island Highway. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Two-car MVA north of Courtenay

Accident took place after 7 a.m. on the Old Island Highway

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns says the recent spike… Continue reading

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

A 19-year-old man is in police custody following a recent violent robbery and assault in Comox . (File photo)
Arrest made in violent robbery and assault of Comox gas station employee

A 19-year old man is in police custody following a recent violent… Continue reading

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
PHOTOS: B.C. celebs take a stand against bullying on Pink Shirt Day

‘We need to let young people know they are not alone and they can reach out to others for help’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A conceptual drawing of the preferred conveyance route for the Comox Valley Sewer Service.
Preferred conveyance route chosen for Comox Valley Sewer Service

The Comox Valley Sewage Commission approved a plan Tuesday to upgrade the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Mowi Canada West salmon farm in B.C. waters. Conservative MPs have backed an industry call for further discussions on the timeline for closing Discovery Island farms. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada)
Conservative MPs back B.C. salmon farmers’ call for transparent discussions

Farm owners requested consultations, more time to leave Discovery Islands

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

Most Read