Recently a story made the news regarding the unintentional posting of over 20,000 emergency room patient records on the Internet. The records contained private medical data including diagnoses made on visits to the emergency room at a hospital. In fact, the slip up was only discovered when a patient whose records were contained in the file came across the posting.
Technology has infiltrated almost every facet of our lives. When I sit in my classes, I see 98% of my classmates rapidly typing notes, we post discussions to internet forums and access notes on a website; by 2012 the Bastyr Center for Natural Health will migrate to electronic charting. Social networking sites give us immediate access to news, the medical ‘thoughts’ and opinions of others, research, and more. Sometimes it seems that my education is in both medicine and technology. Yet, with all of these things come a great responsibility, and one that doesn’t seem to be discussed as often or gather as much attention as the “advances” in technology that are thought to be moving medicine forward.
Patient privacy and confidentiality should be upheld with the highest degree of respect. As future Physicians and care providers it is our responsibility to do so. It seems that we are using technology but failing to acknowledge the burden than can come from misuse. In my opinion, this misuse comes in the form of unprotected and unencrypted patient records, in sharing clinical anecdotes that contain identifying information and in freely voicing our medical opinions. Just as that patient stumbled upon his or her own medical records online, our contributions in the technological realm can and likely will be stumbled upon by someone. How they view and use the information that they come across is a burden that should fall upon the person who shared that information.
What was the outcome of the unintentional sharing of private information? The hospital offered the victims free identity theft monitoring. I have to wonder if the root cause of this problem was considered, but more importantly, if the responsible party fully understands the consequences of their mistake.