skpic dustin duncan

Saskatchewan's minister of health, Dustin Duncan, says he will bring forward legislative amendments to improve protection of health information. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan government says it will create a "snooping offence" to deal with health-care employees who improperly access people's personal files.

Creating a specific snooping offence is one of a series of recommendations a government committee recently released to improve protection of health information.

"I support these recommendations and I intend to seek approval to bring forward the legislative amendments," Health Minister Dustin Duncan said Thursday in a news release. 

The snooping offence will cover inappropriate use of personal information by employees who access files without a professional reason for doing so. 

It follows a series of serious privacy breaches detailed last year by the privacy commissioner's office:

  • In one case, an employee at the Regina General Hospital looked up a co-worker's health records and displayed them on a computer screen while other workers looked over her shoulder.
  • In a second case, an employee went into another employee's electronic records seven times, put vulgarities in the file and added the acronym "RIP".
  • A third case involved an employee who went into another employee's records for reasons that appeared to be "intentional, malicious and for personal gain," according to then-privacy commissioner Gary Dickson.

The cases resulted in suspensions and other disciplinary measures. 

Dickson said the three cases suggested that unauthorized viewing of medical files via electronic information systems was becoming a chronic issue.

hi-records-bin

Officials removed health records from a Regina dumpster after they were discovered by a member of the public. The privacy commissioner's office said tougher rules are required to prevent this from happening.

Duncan said the province will move forward on the snooping offence recommendation, as well as others that include:

  • In reference to some high-profile cases where medical records ended up in dumpsters, a requirement that doctors and other health-care record trustees show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the records from being abandoned.
  • A requirement that there be a quick response in cases where abandoned medical records are found.
  • A recognition that employees of health-care record trustees, and not just the trustees, are also responsible for inappropriate release of private medical records.