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REF NO.: 59

SUBJECT: Eastern Health and Memorial University of Newfoundland advise of privacy breach

DATE: Jan. 30,2017

Eastern Health and Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Faculty of Medicine today advised of a privacy breach by a physician who emailed the tuberculosis-related health information of 122 patients to research collaborators. Upon request, the email and patient information has been deleted by all who received it.

“While we are confident that the information has not been misused, I apologize to all of the patients whose privacy was breached through this incident," said David Diamond, president and CEO of Eastern Health. “As an organization, we take our responsibility as a custodian of personal health information very seriously and it is a priority to make sure employees and physicians are aware of their obligation for protecting personal health information."

In this case, the physician involved, who holds a dual role with Eastern Health and Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine, had shared the information with research collaborators during the development of a grant application seeking funding for a national research project.

“As an academic institution, we are committed to ensuring that proper procedures are taken when using research data and the university has provisions in our policies, procedures and collective agreements to support Memorial University’s commitment to the highest standards of ethical conduct in research,” said Dr. Margaret Steele, dean, Faculty of Medicine.

Eastern Health has identified all the patients who have been impacted by the privacy breach and is in the process of contacting them. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has also been notified by Eastern Health.

“While Eastern Health has many measures in place to protect patient health information, we are always looking for ways to improve and enhance privacy practices,” said Ron Johnson, vice -resident responsible for privacy. “We will reinforce awareness among health-care workers and researchers of their obligation to maintain the privacy of our patients, residents and clients.”

 

Eastern Health has established a number of policies and initiatives for employees and physicians related to privacy and confidentiality, including the following:

 

  • the signing of an employee oath of confidentiality upon hiring;
  • a Personal Health Information Act education program;
  • a Privacy and Confidentiality Policy and a Privacy Breach Management Policy;
  • an annual Privacy Awareness Week; and
  • notices to employees reminding them of their responsibility to help protect the privacy of patients, clients and residents.

 

Memorial University manages its privacy obligations and educates faculty, staff and researchers through multiple policies and programs, including the following:

 

  • Ethics of Research Involving Human Participants and Integrity in Scholarly Research Policies;
  • Privacy and Electronic Data Security policies, and related procedures
  • mandatory privacy training:
  • a Personal Health Information Act education program for all employees and students having access to personal health information, including signing an oath/affirmation of confidentiality; and
  • mandatory privacy reviews of all new projects and programs.

 

About Eastern Health Eastern Health is the largest, integrated health authority in Newfoundland and Labrador employing approximately 13,000 dedicated employees, over 700 medical staff, and is supported by more than 2,000 volunteers, including members of numerous auxiliaries and fundraising foundations. With an annual budget of approximately $1.45 billion, the authority offers the full continuum of health and community services including public health, long-term care, community services, hospital care and unique provincial programs and services. Serving a population of over 300,000, Eastern Health’s geographic boundaries extend from St. John’s west to Port Blandford including all communities on the Avalon, Burin and Bonavista Peninsulas.

 

About Memorial University

Memorial University of Newfoundland is a community of more than 18,000 students from 90 countries and about 5,000 faculty and staff. Founded in 1925, the institution is a living memorial to the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Providing a comprehensive range of undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs, the university delivers courses at four diverse campuses, complemented by extensive online offerings. A global network of almost 90,000 accomplished alumni throughout the world strengthen Memorial University’s reputation for leadership in world-class research, teaching and public engagement.

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For more information, please contact Tracey Boland, media relations manager, Eastern Health, at (709) 777-1412, TraceyL.Boland@easternhealth.ca; or Virginia Middleton, senior communications advisor, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, at (709) 864-6363 or vmiddleton@mun.ca.  

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