Medical centre apologises after receptionist breaches privacy

A Queenstown woman has received an apology from the Queenstown Medical Centre after a receptionist breached its policies by looking at her medical records.

However, she remains angry about the incident because the receptionist, who quit last September and left the resort, has refused to admit she told a third party details about the complainant’s visit to the medical centre last March.

The woman, who does not wish to be named, complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) last July.

It concluded its investigation earlier this month, saying it could not make a finding because of a lack of evidence.

Queenstown Medical Centre (QMC) chief executive Ashley Light said he sympathised with the complainant, but maintained the breach was a "one-off, rogue event", and its processes and staff training were up to scratch.

The Otago Daily Times is not naming the receptionist, now living in the North Island, for legal reasons.

The complainant said she had a short-lived relationship with the third party, which began about two months after he broke off his engagement to the receptionist.

Last March, he told the complainant his ex-fiancee had called him to say the complainant had visited the medical centre’s Isle St branch, telling him details about tests the complainant had undergone.

The complainant said the information was "deeply personal" and potentially embarrassing, and the receptionist had been motivated by jealousy.

When she complained to QMC the following month, Mr Light confirmed the receptionist had breached its policy by viewing her visit record, but said the allegation of a third party breach was "inconclusive".

He told her he had given the receptionist a final written warning and put her on "probation".

When Mr Light asked if she had evidence of the third party breach, she sent him a copy of an exchange of messages between herself and the third party in which the latter says "I should have said nothing to be honest, it’s my fault for talk to much [sic]" and "Forgive her she was trying to look out for me and she breached the privacy".

The complainant said there was no other possible explanation for the breach, and she only met the receptionist for the first time months later when Mr Light arranged a meeting between them.

The complainant said the man refused to support her complaint because he did not want his ex-fiancee to get in more trouble.

She later received a three-line email from the receptionist, apologising for "reviewing your medical notes".

"It’s like a child saying sorry because their parents told them to," she said.

The OPC investigator had told her she had been unable to make a finding, given the lack of evidence.

However, the investigator had carried out a review of QMC’s policies and training.

"I am satisfied the centre has taken reasonable steps to secure the personal information it holds," the investigator wrote.

The complainant said the OPC did not have powers to seize phone records so could not go any further than Mr Light had to investigate the breach.

She therefore saw no point in taking her complaint one step higher to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

She was pleased, however, that QMC’s systems and training had been independently reviewed.

"I don’t want this to happen to anyone else."

Mr Light said he had been on leave and had not yet read the OPC’s report and recommendations.

However, he would again review the medical centre’s privacy measures, which included making random audits of what patient information staff were viewing.

Asked if the receptionist had inappropriately viewed other patients’ medical information, he said: "No, this is a one-off, rogue event ... it’s not something we’ve encountered before or since."

Mr Light said he "totally understands" why the complainant felt aggrieved about her experience.

"We feel for her, and I wish I could have found the evidence, because it would’ve made things a lot quicker."

guy.williams@odt.co.nz

 

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