Nova Scotia

More than 200 people affected by privacy breaches at Nova Scotia Health

Another privacy breach at Nova Scotia Health has affected more than 200 people. The province's health authority said they are contacting 211 people by letter whose personal health information was "inappropriately accessed" in two unrelated incidents.

Letters are being sent to 211 people impacted by the breach

Nova Scotia Health says they are contacting 211 people whose personal health information was 'inappropriately accessed' in two unrelated incidents. (Shutterstock)

Another privacy breach at Nova Scotia Health has affected more than 200 people.

In a release Tuesday, the province's health authority said they are contacting 211 people by letter whose personal health information was "inappropriately accessed" in two unrelated incidents.

The breaches took place at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, and the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville. They were flagged by a routine privacy audit which triggered two internal investigations. 

Investigators found a clerical worker at the Aberdeen Hospital was looking at appointments made through the hospital's Meditech scheduling system. 

At the Valley Regional hospital, a clerk accessed Meditech systems for both scheduling and patients records. 

Family, colleagues and community members affected

The head of privacy for Nova Scotia Health says the errant employees looked at a wide variety of appointments and medical files. 

"There were some accesses of family members, co-workers, colleagues and that sort of thing, which is fairly common when we get into these snooping investigations. Then there was also access of other members of the communities they reside in," said Karen Hornberger, the provincial director of privacy for Nova Scotia Health. 

Hornberger won't name the perpetrators for privacy reasons, but she said victims will be told exactly who accessed their records.

Karen Hornberger is the provincial director of privacy for the Nova Scotia Health Authority. (Robert Short/CBC)

She said victims will also be told what parts of their medical records were examined, and can request copies if they wish to see for themselves. 

"We certainly apologize to those people. And unfortunately, one of the worst things about a privacy breach is that it's not something that we can undo," Hornberger said.

"That's why breaches like this are so terrible. And why, as director of privacy, I have no tolerance for this sort of behaviour."

Discipline a secret

Hornberger also won't say what disciplinary action has been taken against the employees, but she said suspensions and dismissals are typical in similar cases. 

As well, Hornberger had a warning for any health workers who might feel the temptation of looking at confidential files for no good reason. 

"This is completely unacceptable and not tolerated. And if anyone else is thinking of doing this, we may not find you right away, but we will find you eventually," she said. 

Victims can take further action

Besides requesting copies of the improperly accessed files, Hornberger said victims can complain to Nova Scotia's privacy commissioner if they're not happy with how Nova Scotia Health has handled the breach. 

She also said any Nova Scotian can ask for sensitive medical records to be permanently sealed. 

She calls this a drastic measure because it hides those records from all medical personnel forever, but she said it's understandable for some patients to want complete privacy around things like abortion or sexual assault.

With files from Haley Ryan

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