PHI Disposal

Saskatchewan’s privacy commissioner released a report about health records ending up dumpsters and the good news is that it’s happening less often

By Barb Pacholik, Leader-Post

REGINA — While Saskatchewan’s privacy commissioner has recently released yet another report about health records ending up in a dumpster, the good news is that it’s happening far less often, says a spokesperson.

“One of the most positive developments that we’ve seen over time is these reported incidents to our office have become less frequent,” Diana Aldridge, director of compliance with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, said Wednesday. “They’ve been fewer and far in between.”

This latest report — regarding a handful of documents from a Regina optometry office — stems from an incident in April 2011. It was a particularly challenging time for privacy in Saskatchewan, with four instances alone that month of improper destruction of health records. And those followed the worst such case, one month before, when 25 boxes containing 180,000 pieces of personal patient information from a physician’s office were found in a dumpster outside a Regina shopping mall after a storage mix-up.

Aldridge said the upside of such public incidents is that they raised awareness about the need for health stakeholders to take care with document destruction. These days, the bigger problem has been errant faxes from medical offices, and she expects a report released on that in the next while.

The latest report, released this month, traces how an anonymous call on April 8, 2011 led to the discovery of health-related documents in and around a dumpster in northwest Regina.

Around the dumpster were several ripped pieces of papers and two full sheets of paper that came from the Lakewood Eye Health Centre, owned by Dr. Diana Monea. Health documents from another source were found inside the dumpster, but are not the subject of this investigation report.

Privacy commissioner Gary Dickson makes a number of recommendations in his report after finding the clinic “did not have adequate safeguards to protect the personal health information,” due to problems in its record disposal process.

Monea’s lawyer Tim Stodalka said the issues raised are moot. “They’ve gone completely to a paperless office,” he said, adding the privacy commissioner was informed of the change last year. He said this situation accelerated the move to a paperless office.

Stodalka said Monea was “very upset” about the situation, which has never occurred before. “She would like nothing better than to reassure her clients that she, as in the past, will continue to make sure their privacy rights are protected,” he said.

As the report mentions, Stodalka blamed the incident not on faulty processes but sabotage by a disgruntled former employee. He said Monea believes the documents were deliberately removed from a cue for shredding and “planted” near a dumpster more than 260 metres from the clinic.

“When you’ve got a vindictive former employee that’s going to go ahead and create havoc, there is no way you can go ahead and protect against that type of problem,” he said.

In his report, Dickson concluded that even if the alleged sabotage occurred or if another scenario he raised — that the documents mistakenly ended up in the regular trash because of a faulty disposal system and training — is likely, it still pointed to insufficient privacy safeguards.

Aldridge said it’s the first time in her nearly 10 years with the privacy office that employee sabotage has been claimed as the source of a breach.

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