A dubious benefit of having MD after your name

From the Los Angeles Times (Doctors got off lighter in UCLA snooping case)

When penalties were handed out for snooping in UCLA’s medical records, it paid to have an M.D. after your name.

As a group, doctors at UCLA hospitals who wrongly peeked at the records of pop star Britney Spears got off lighter than other staffers, according to reports released Friday by state health inspectors.

All told, at least 53 UCLA staffers — including 14 physicians — looked at Spears’ medical records on the two occasions, even though they were not treating her, according to statistics from the state and UCLA officials. Eighteen non-doctors resigned, retired or were dismissed after their prying was discovered, according to data provided to The Times by UCLA. No physicians quit or were fired.

Employees, it said, were scurrying for their computers “within minutes” of Spears’ arrival there in September 2005 to give birth to her first son, Sean Preston.

Even though Spears was assigned an alias to protect her privacy, five doctors and 19 non-physicians called up her records and those of her son “without authorization or justification” over a three-day period, the state said. Six staffers at the UCLA hospital in Westwood also looked at her records in 2005, even though she was not a patient there at the time.

The problem apparently was not ignorance of hospital policy. Inspectors noted that all of the employees had participated in patient privacy training and had signed confidentiality agreements promising to access patient information “only in the performance of assigned duties and where required by or permitted by law.”

Unless they fire the doctors or announce convincingly that the next ones will be fired it’s hard to imagine that this will be the last such incident.

I have to admit that I used to think people were paranoid when they worried that medical staff would snoop in their medical records. I guess I was naive about that.

April 15, 2008

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