Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital employees fired for snooping

Many insider threats at health care organizations are employees who steal information to commit fraud or sell it to criminals. However, there’s another common type of insider theft that can get providers in serious HIPAA trouble: when employees let their curiosity get the better of them and view or copy information they aren’t authorized to access. 

Often that happens when a celebrity or otherwise notable person is treated. In one recent example, privacy violations occurred at Akron General Medical Center in Ohio after the shooting death of one of its patients.

A “small number” of hospital employees have been fired for accessing a patients’ electronic records even though they weren’t involved in the person’s care, the Akron Beacon Journal reports.

The records involved belonged to a patient in the intensive care unit who was shot and killed by her husband in a reported mercy killing while in the hospital.

Akron General officials didn’t say how many employees lost their jobs, or what their positions were. They did report that all employees receive annual training reminding them they’re prohibited from viewing any information they don’t need for their jobs.

The hospital isn’t alone in dealing with this type of incident. According to a poll from last year, 70% of health care organizations have experienced privacy breaches, and internal staff members were most often to blame. More than half of the data breaches reported in the study were blamed on employees, with 35% involving staff members snooping on their co-workers’ records, and 27% involving instances in which employees accessed family members’ records.

In most of those cases, it’s unlikely the employee meant to do any harm — however, that doesn’t mean the snooping was a violation of HIPAA or other regulations.

To avoid those cases, health care providers should make sure all staff members are regularly trained regarding privacy rules, and that IT systems are configured so employees have only the level of access to data that they need for their jobs.

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