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Celebrities are among some of the individuals whose medical records are most sought after. This is by both employees within the facility as well as news/media outside of the facility.

One covered entity made big news about two years ago when employee snooping occurred on several celebrity medical records. UCLA Health System agreed to pay $865,500 as part of a settlement after hospital employees reviewed celebrity patients records without authorization.

The complaints covered 2005 to 2009 when hospital employees were repeatedly caught and fired for snooping in the medical records of dozens of celebrities, including Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett, Tom Cruise and Maria Shriver. It was reported that over 120 employees had viewed the electronic health records of celebrities without authorization. These violations led state legislators to pass a law imposing escalating fines on hospitals for patient privacy lapses.

After the law took effect on January 1, 2009, state regulators fined Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center $95,000 in connection with privacy breaches that year involving the medical records of Michael Jackson after his death in June 2009.

Snooping has always been an area of concern for healthcare facilities. Electronic medical records have made the temptation greater as accessing records is now easier than ever. Not only are they easier to snoop through than paper records, but an employee can also quickly download, print and send.

Luckily, this ease in accessing medical records is also accompanied by enhanced auditing tools which allow facilities to better track who is supposed to have access to patient information as well as who is viewing it. Most likely, an employee will be caught if they continually engage in snooping and will suffer the consequences.

It is important for all health care organizations to monitor and enforce internal practices in order to avoid being hit with a huge fine like the one that UCLA Medical Center incurred. Education is key when it comes to preventing these breaches by staff. Make sure all employees are aware that under HIPAA, any unauthorized disclosure of patient medical information is illegal (even viewing).

Hopefully these precautions will help your facility to avoid any improper viewing or disclosures of patient information. However, the allure of viewing celebrity records may continue to be too great for some.

-Christiana Thomson, Director of Business Development