Electronic medical records made it easy to both peep and catch peepers at confidential patient information.
By Francie Diep
(Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)
After Kanye West was admitted to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center last month, some staffers at the hospital apparently couldn’t resist trying to look up the rapper’s records in their computer system. But accessing a patient’s information without need is a serious breach of medical ethics and the law, and officials are now investigating, TMZ reports. One source told TMZ some employees of the hospital have already been fired; another source said they expect firings in the future.
UCLA Medical Center, located in Bel-Air and not far from Hollywood, is particularly vulnerable to this kind of violation. And, to be sure, this isn’t the first time staffers have looked at, and even leaked, medical data. In 2011, the entire UCLA Health System agreed to pay $865,000 to federal regulators as punishment for repeated leaks to the press about dozens of celebrity patients, including Britney Spears and Farrah Fawcett, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The UCLA complaints covered 2005 to 2009, during which time a voracious culture of celebrity news arose on the Web, epitomized by blogger Perez Hilton. At the same time, hospitals began moving to electronic record-keeping, making individual patients’ files more easily accessible by hospital staff. The Timesbroke the news on UCLA’s 2000s-era patient-privacy troubles, reporting in 2008 that nearly 70 current and former UCLA employees, including doctors, had been accused of accessing forbidden celebrity medical records.
In the Times’ 2011 story, the UCLA Health System promised it had improved its employee training, data security, and auditing. Perhaps it has: The latest TMZ story notes UCLA staffers “attempted to gain access to the computer system,” but doesn’t say they succeeded. Plus, while electronic records may seem especially easy to access, they also make it especially easy to track who’s been snooping.
*UPDATE — December 21, 2016: The headline of this story has been updated to reflect that it was the era epitomized by Perez Hilton that provided the conditions for the recent UCLA breach, not Hilton himself.