Safe & Sound with Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

More Celebrity Records Snoopers Fired

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Latest To Boot Nosy Workers
More Celebrity Records Snoopers Fired

Records snooping by nosy employees is a problem for many healthcare organizations, but it's a particular challenge for hospitals that provide care to the rich and famous.

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The latest case of celebrity record snooping reportedly involves five employees and a student research assistant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who were recently fired for inappropriately accessing 14 patient records between June 18 and June 24, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Healthcare organizations in less glittery cities can also be vulnerable to record snooping of VIPs. 

Just a few days before the inappropriate access, reality T.V. celebrity Kim Kardashian gave birth to a baby daughter at the hospital. While the medical center won't confirm whether it was Kardashian's records that were breached, that's what's being widely suspected in the gossip circles.

Of course, Cedars-Sinai isn't the first hospital to struggle with celebrity record snooping incidents.

UCLA Health System has had problems too, including breaches involving the records of Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett and others, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Two years ago this month, we reported that UCLA Health System entered a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which included a $865,500 payment and a corrective action plan aimed at remedying gaps in its compliance with HIPAA rules. At the heart of that investigation, which was launched in 2009, were complaints filed on behalf of two celebrity patients who alleged that UCLA employees repeatedly viewed their electronic protected health information, as well as those of other patients, without permission.

Beyond Hollywood

Healthcare organizations in less glittery cities can also be vulnerable to record snooping of VIPs, of course.

For example, the University Medical Center in Tucson in January 2011 fired three staff members for inappropriately accessing confidential medical records. At the time of that record snooping incident, the hospital was caring for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and other victims of the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting tragedy in Arizona.

And some hospitals faced with the care for high-profile patients have taken a proactive stance in protecting privacy.

For instance, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in April, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center - which cared for several victims as well as suspected terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - posted a HIPAA reminder message at the top of its intranet for every staff member to see on every page. Among the warnings: "Violation of these [privacy] regulations and policies will lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment."

Important HIPAA Reminder

Cedars-Sinai's recent firing of several employees sends an important reminder to the rest of its workforce - not only to those tempted to dig into records of other celebrities, but also to those who consider taking a quick peek at the records of next-door neighbors or in-laws.

While big names certainly entice more record snooping, cases like the latest one at Cedars-Sinai also provide an impromptu HIPAA compliance refresher lesson for all nosy insiders with access to patient's data everywhere: Stay out - or you could be thrown out.

About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.

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