TORONTO, ON, (March 16, 2017) – A Masters of Social Work student who was on an educational placement with a family health team in Central Huron, has been ordered to pay a $20,000 fine and a $5,000 victim surcharge for accessing personal health information without authorization. This is the highest fine to date for a health privacy breach in Canada. The student pled guilty to willfully accessing the personal health information of five individuals. As part of her plea, she agreed that she accessed the personal health information of 139 individuals without authorization between September 9, 2014 and March 5, 2015.
In March 2015, the IPC was advised that the individual was found to have been illegally accessing the records of family, friends, local politicians, staff of the clinic and other individuals in the community. Following an investigation, we referred the matter to the Attorney General of Ontario for prosecution.
This is the fourth person convicted under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA). Previous convictions include two radiation therapists at the University Health Network and a registration clerk at a regional hospital.
“Health care professionals need to know that this kind of behaviour, whether it’s snooping out of curiosity or for personal gain, is completely unacceptable and has serious consequences. This judgement sends a message through Ontario’s health care system that unauthorized access will not be tolerated. Further, there is an obligation to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent this kind of activity. Patient privacy is vital if Ontarians are to have confidence in their health care system.”
– Brian Beamish, Commissioner
In delivering her reasons for sentence, the Justice of the Peace stated that:
“Overall, the victim impact statements reveal a lack of trust and a sense of reluctance to share information with future health care providers. I believe this is a truly significant factor, given that we all must believe that when we go to the doctor for our physical illnesses and our mental health illnesses, that we will be able to trust our own health care practitioners and their team and that what we tell them will be respected and held in confidence so we receive the treatment and care we deserve.”