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Officials: Patients’ privacy breached

State health department investigates 2009 allegations; hospital says it has strengthened security

Posted: June 9, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: June 9, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital could soon be fined for breaching patient privacy during a 2009 incident, hospital officials said Wednesday.

A database containing the medical files of more than 300 Newhall Memorial patients was accessed by a former doctor of the Valencia hospital, prompting a breach of privacy complaint to the California Department of Public Health and a subsequent investigation.

Ralph Montano, spokesman for the Public Health Department, confirmed the complaint, but couldn’t release any details since the incident is still under investigation.

Hospital spokeswoman Andie Bogdan said the hospital has since strengthened its computer security.

“Henry Mayo takes patient confidentiality very seriously and provides ongoing training to our medical staff and employees to ensure our patients’ rights are protected,” she said.

“Security measures associated to computer access were enhanced as a result of the investigation.”

The file-reading physician simply meant to follow up on seven patients previously under her care when she accessed the database, Bogdan said.

The physician viewed seven medical records belonging to patients previously under her care and whose health care status required follow-ups by the patients’ primary-care physicians, Bogdan said.

The hospital immediately reported the incident to the Public Health Department, Bogdan said, and launched an internal investigation into the incident.

The physician only wanted to help her patients, Bogdan explained.

“There was no risk of harm to the patients in any way,” she said. “The visiting physician had been an active member of a hospital-care committee, and held the responsibility of creating a database of patients for follow-up activities as recommended by a certifying agency.”

She then accessed that database, which contained limited information for 303 patients, and then provided the database to the appropriate individual for committee follow-up, Bogdan said.



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