“Why him?”: Privacy gets personal

It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to hear your privacy as a patient has been breached. What does it mean? Where has your information gone? Why would someone want to read your records?

Staff at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) are educated about the importance of patient privacy and the seriousness of any breach in protocol, but it’s rare that they get to hear about the personal impact of privacy misconduct.

“We’re really grateful that Jerry has agreed to share his story,” says Mary Wall, director of privacy & freedom of information at HHS. “It’s important for everyone in our organization to understand that privacy breaches affect people deeply and personally.”

Jerry’s privacy was breached when a staff member at HHS, who was not involved in his care, accessed his electronic medical record. In line with the Personal Health Information Protection Act, he was sent a letter about the breach.

“privacy breaches affect people deeply and personally.”

“The best way to describe his reaction is confusion and shock,” says Jerry’s daughter, Margaret, who accompanies him to appointments and helps with translation. “My dad is a very private person and often does not like sharing information willingly. He had a hard time understanding, why him?”

Jerry was concerned about whether someone was using his information, and what they could be doing with it. He worried that it might be passed on to an insurance company or affect his ability to collect financial assistance.

“He has lost faith and trust in the health care system. He’s concerned about whether this will happen again,” Margaret says.

“Hearing from people like Jerry reinforces how important it is to follow patient privacy rules,” says Wall. “That means disposing of documents appropriately, not having conversations about patient care in open spaces and never accessing a patient’s record unless it’s necessary for their care.”

Wall is passionate about patient privacy and has been leading a number of initiatives at HHS to educate staff. After the breach that affected Jerry occurred, her team launched a new mandatory privacy training module for all employees.

“This feeling is multiplied when a privacy breach happens.”

“We’re taking steps to make sure everyone’s privacy is protected. We want our patients to be able to focus on getting better without concern over the security of their health information. We hope that hearing Jerry’s story will help staff understand the true impact of a breach.”

Margaret says the effects of her father’s experience are lasting, and it’s important for everyone who works in health care to know that.

“Upholding patient privacy starts with frontline workers. Behind the screen of information is a real person who needs care,” she says. “Patients, especially immigrants like my dad, often feel vulnerable when receiving medical treatment. This feeling is multiplied when a privacy breach happens.”

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