Former P.A. doctor's privacy breaches prompts investigation

By Glenn Hicks
January 4, 2019 - 2:00pm Updated: January 4, 2019 - 6:32pm

eHealth Saskatchewan, the Crown Corporation which collects and stores electronic health records for residents, along with various users in Prince Albert of eHealth’s digital data bank, have been told to improve training and safeguards regarding the privacy of patients’ information.

This follows an investigation by the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner into the unethical accessing by former P.A. doctor Josias Furstenberg of patients’ private information on the so-called eHR Viewer.

Commissioner Ronald Kruzeniski found there were insufficient safeguards in place to protect the personal health information being accessed from the digital system.

The crux of his lengthy report focuses on the Health Information Privacy Act (HIPA), which dictates users of the eHealth system can access personal health information of patients only on a need-to-know basis for diagnosis, treatment or care. It was learned that on at least seven occasions between 2016 and 2017 Furstenberg’s access to such information was inappropriate or not authorized in terms of the Act. Kruzeniski found Furstenberg had accessed the personal health information of one patient 255 times in a 13 day period.

The investigation followed the charges laid in November 2017 by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan against Furstenberg. These included causing a photograph of a patient to be sent to an individual, exchanging text messages with personal info, and accessing personal health information, all without appropriate consent. Furstenberg was also charged on more serious matters of unprofessional conduct in 11 separate instances including  having sexual intercourse with some of his patients and prescribing large quantities of opioids to a patient.

With regards to the Commissioner's privacy investigation, he included the role of all trustees involved in the digital info system: eHealth Saskatchewan, SHA, Dr.Oleksinski with West Hill Medical Clinic, DR. Basson and Dr. de Beer with the South Hill Medical Practice and Dr. de Beer as operator of Beer Medical Professional Corp.

Kruzeniski said while his investigation was hampered by Fustenberg’s departure from the country (Furstenberg no longer holds a medical licence), he was able to gather enough information from eHealth Saskatchewan and other trustees who Furstenberg had worked with to conduct his investigation.

Among his 13 recommendations Kruzeniski said eHealth should work with its authorized providers to devise a more timely solution to identify approved users that should no longer have access to the Viewer.

He also told West Hill Medical Clinic and South Hill Medical Practice to revise policies and procedures to address the Viewer and require physicians to sign confidentiality agreements and enhance its training for its staff and physicians.

Dr. Stan Oleksinski told paNOW all physicians are trained in terms of following the privacy legislation but unfortunately in this case that didn’t happen.

“It is very important to have training for all health care staff in terms of following the legislation, and we’re going to try to strengthen that as best as we can,” he said. “But of course one can’t guarantee a breach isn’t going to happen if someone acts unethically like they did with Dr. Furstenberg.”

Dr.L.N. de Beer was not immediately available for comment.


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