In response to a recent rash of hospital workers peeking at medical records of celebrities such as Britney Spears and Farrah Fawcett, the California state Senate passed a bill that would provide more oversight and harsher penalties for such privacy breaches.
The legislation would require healthcare providers, including hospitals, to implement safeguards to protect patients medical information. The measure would establish a health information integrity office within the states HHS. The director of that office could assess fines of up to $250,000 against anyone who violates patient privacy rules and could make recommendations on further investigation, discipline or licensing reviews. Funds derived from penalties would be used to support healthcare quality-improvement activities.
Lawmakers passed the bill by a 29-7 vote and it now moves to the state Assembly. Backers include Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggerwhose wife Maria Shriver was a target of medical-file snoopingand the California Hospital Association.
What happened should not have happened, said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association.
As many as 127 workers peeked at confidential medical records at 595-bed Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. The state is undertaking its sixth investigation into the issue at the hospital, a spokeswoman for the Public Health Department said. The hospital has submitted plans of correction for the five previous investigations on the matter.
UCLA Medical Center is retraining physicians, employees and medical students on privacy rules and has enhanced its information systems requiring personnel to explain why they need to access the records, said Dale Tate, a spokeswoman for the hospital. In addition, the hospital has increased its audits of celebrities medical records to make sure only authorized personnel are looking at them, she added.
Were still working on it, Tate said.
Although UCLA Medical Center doesnt take positions on legislation, its parent organization, the University of California, sometimes does. The UC system is still assessing the bill, Tate said.
Schwarzenegger has pledged not to sign any more bills until lawmakers resolve a months-long state budget impasse but has made some exceptions.
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