After what is believed to have been inappropriate accessing of patient health records by staff members, Washington Health System has decided to suspend several staff members while the privacy breach is reviewed.
While it has not been revealed how many staff members have been suspended, Washington Health System VP of strategy and clinical services, Larry Pantuso, released a statement to the Observer Reporter indicating around a dozen staff members have been suspended, although at this point in time, no employees have been relieved of the positions for inappropriate medical record access.
The privacy breaches are though to relate to the death of a staff member of the WHS Neighbor Health Center. Kimberly Dollard, 57, was killed when an out of control car driven by Chad Spence, aged 43, crashed into the building where she worked. Spence and one other person were rushed to the hospital after suffering injuries in the accident.
Pantuso did not state if this was the incident that lead to the employees to access patients’ medical records, although he did confirm that the claimed inappropriate access related to a “high profile case.”
The accessing of medical histories without any legitimate work reason for doing so is a breach of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA only allows the accessing of PHI by employees for treatment, payment, or healthcare operations.
Any healthcare staff member thought to have violated HIPAA Rules faces disciplinary action which can include suspension, termination, loss of license and, possible, criminal charges.
There have been many recent incidents where employees have been sacked for snooping on the medical records of high profile patients.
In February 2018, 13 staff members at the Medical University of South Carolina were fired for HIPAA breaches after they viewed the medical records of patients without authorization, many of whom logged onto the medical records of high profile patients.
One of the most recent steps taken against a healthcare staff member for a HIPAA breach was taken by the New York nursing board’s Office for Professional Discipline. Martha Smith-Lightfoot was supplied with a list of patients before leaving her employment at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) to take up a new role at Greater Rochester Neurology. Smith-Lightfoot supplied that list to her new employer and patients were called in an attempt to attract business.
Smith-Lightfoot signed a consent order with the nursing board taking responsibility for the breach and had her license to practice suspended for one year, received a stayed suspension for 12 months and three years of probation when she finally returns to practice.
Looking at medical records is likely to be discovered as logs are created when health records are logged onto. Those logs are periodically reviewed and if improper PHI access is found it is likely to result in termination and will make it hard to obtain future employment in the healthcare sector.