After her marriage ended, worry about her daughter and an ‘obsession’ with her former husband’s partner triggered a pharmacist into inappropriately accessing their medical records
The New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal heard that while working as a pharmacist at the store between 6 May 2016 and 14 July 2017, the pharmacist identified only as Ms A accessed the medical records of three patients, outside her patient care duties, via the Concerto patient management system.
These patients were her former husband – identified as Mr A – his then partner, Ms Z, and the pharmacist’s own daughter, Ms I.
The pharmacist used her colleagues’ log-on access to access the records. In some cases, this happened when these pharmacists were in the dispensary with her, working.
She acknowledged that she had accessed the records without authority, when these colleagues had left their Concerto sessions open on seven of the listed occasions.
Ms A’s employer began an investigation and a disciplinary process for serious misconduct was begun.
During that time, Ms A resigned from her employment at the pharmacy. She had admitted the allegations and that her conduct was unprofessional.
In a submission she made to the Professional Conduct Committee of the Pharmacy Council of New Zealand, Ms A said she knew that what she was doing was wrong, but “continued to stay at the pages concerning Ms I’s and Ms Z’ records because, she said, she thought to herself that that used to be her address, that used to be her home and that used to be her family home”.
There had been significant “traumatic” events in the pharmacist’s family life, which led to separation from her husband, the Tribunal heard.
These included her husband’s extra-marital activities.
The Tribunal heard about “Ms A’s anxiety about her daughter’s care and her having become ‘obsessive’ and reacting compulsively when her former husband’s new partner arrived at her workplace,” it noted.
“Her former husband… had Ms A placed under surveillance and arrested which led to a three-week period in which she had no contact with her daughter, Ms I.
“The charges were abruptly dropped due to ‘lack of evidence’.
“During this time Ms A was required to adjust to her role as a solo mother and to having shared custody of her daughter.
“Her former husband’s new partner, Ms Z, had part-time care for Ms I and lived in the former matrimonial home.
“It was during her work as a pharmacist… that Ms A incidentally accessed Ms Z’s records there.
“She recognised the address on the file and realised that this referred to her former husband’s new partner.
“It was said that Ms A wanted to know if there was any reason why she needed to be concerned about her daughter living with Ms Z and that was the background to her accessing the Ms Z’ records as charged.”
The Tribunal also noted that instances had been triggered by a legitimate concern, such as comments made by the daughter about the former husband’s health, which Ms A worried could impact her daughter.
“On another occasion Ms A received a text message from Mr A while their daughter was in his care informing her that their daughter would not be attending school because she was sick; and when Ms A responded to this she received no reply.
“It was said she was not unable to garner any more information about her daughter and consequently, when a colleague left the computer logged on Ms A took the opportunity to review her daughter’s health record.
“It was said that Ms A also accessed Ms Z’ health records simply ‘out of an obsession with Ms Z, born out of her anxiety and depressive symptoms’.”
The Tribunal found that there had been malpractice on Ms A’s part and conduct which brings discredit to her profession which warrants disciplinary sanction.
The position of the PCC was that in all the circumstances there was no need for any order for penalty by the Tribunal against Ms A.
The Tribunal found this position troubling.
“If the matter was sufficiently serious for it to have gone to the trouble and expense of investigating the matter and reaching a decision to lay a Charge before the Tribunal and to have put Ms A to the efforts and expense of taking legal advice and having submissions prepared and then attending the hearing, and if the submission is that, by comparison with other cases and having regard to relevant principles, the misconduct on Ms A’s part was sufficiently serious to warrant disciplinary sanction, then one would have thought the PCC would be seeking such a sanction by imposition of some penalty order,” it observed.
It decided that there should be an order for censure against Ms A to express its disapproval of her behaviour, and to send a message to other pharmacists.
It also ordered a penalty of NZD$1000 (AUD$920) to contribute to resourcing the Tribunal.
It also suppressed the pharmacist’s name.
In Australia, unauthorised access of a person’s My Health Record is a criminal offence, which can result in penalties including up to two years in jail.
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