Is snooping in our nature? Why it's so hard to keep celebrity records private

Some employees are undeterred by knowledge that they will get caught

As news of a possible medical record breach involving celebrity Kim Kardashian circulates and Royal Baby watch continues, experts are taking a closer look at human nature's proclivity for snooping, especially when it comes to medical records. 

"As long as you're a public figure, in the public eye, whether you're a local anchor, or a politician or Kim Kardashian, it strikes an interest," American Health Information Management Association's Angela Rose told Modern Healthcare.

Rose explains that the privacy "policies and procedures have definitely gotten more strict, the state and federal laws have gotten more strict, but [breaches] still happens. There is still human curiosity and there's still human error."

Violators pay fines, serve time behind bars

"There was a day when people could say there were no HIPAA police," but now HHS's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) "has definitely put the iron fist down a lot harder in the last few years," Rose said.

Although criminal prosecutions are few and far between, they are not unheard of, Modern Healthcare reports. For instance:

In 2004, a health care worker was criminally prosecuted and sent to prison for the first time under HIPAA after he stole a patient's identity and went on a shopping spree.

In 2009, a physician and two hospital employees were fined and put on probation for reading the medical records of a slain television reporter.

In 2010, a research assistant was sentenced to four months in federal prison for reading hundreds of patient records, including those of Tom Hanks and Drew Barrymore.

How to keep celebrity records protected

Mark Rothstein—an attorney who served as chair of HHS's National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics—recommends that hospitals register celebrities under aliases or create a unique log on for celebrity procedures.

"Civil and criminal liability might be a powerful deterrent, but I don't see that happening," Rothstein said, adding that, although it is "relatively easy to track the unauthorized entry using audit trails," the tactic fails to prevent snooping (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 7/15 [subscription required]). 

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