An Alberta privacy watchdog says there has been a spike in privacy breaches of electronic medical records, calling it an "epidemic."

Scott Sibbald

Privacy commissioner spokesperson Scott Sibbald says there has been a growing number of privacy breaches over medical files in the past two years. (CBC)

Alberta Health Services announced on Wednesday that 48 health-care workers are facing disciplinary action after one patient's medical records were "inappropriately" accessed. One has been fired and 47 others have been suspended without pay.

"More broadly, this isn't an isolated incident by any means. We are seeing, and I guess for lack of a better term, an epidemic within electronic medical records systems," said Scott Sibbald, the spokesperson for Alberta's Privacy Commission.

Charges laid

While he can't comment on the current AHS case, Sibbald says privacy breaches are on the rise over the past two years.

This year alone, there has been one conviction and two charges for improper access of health information. The office is also investigating more than a dozen cases, and they all have the potential to become offence investigations.

The reason for these breaches is because of the standardization of using an electronic data base for medical records, says Sibbald.  

The most recent AHS case was reported to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in September, and it's unclear whether it will result in offence investigations.

The Alberta nurses' union sharply criticized AHS in a written statement for the way it handled the investigation and it disputes the conclusions and actions taken against its members.