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Hospital to punish snooping on Spears

UCLA moves to fire at least 13 for looking at the celebrity's records.

March 15, 2008|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

Klove said doctors are overseen differently than other employees. By law, they report to a medical staff governing body, which has the authority to limit, suspend or revoke their practice privileges.

In January, Spears was admitted to UCLA under Section 5150 of California's Welfare and Institutions Code, which allows patients to be held against their will for up to 72 hours for evaluation if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Her hold was extended and she was released Feb. 6.

Snooping has landed hospital staffers in trouble around the country.

In October, Palisades Medical Center in New Jersey suspended more than two dozen employees without pay for accessing George Clooney's medical records after he was injured in a motorcycle accident.

Also last year, Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside fired nine people, including nurses, secretaries and technicians, for attempting to take pictures of a patient and circulate images of an X-ray.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, which has also treated Spears, said its electronic medical records of high-profile patients are flagged so that access is "highly restricted."

Even so, employees can be -- and have been -- terminated just for attempting to access those records. Hospital spokesman Richard Elbaum said three or four workers are terminated each year for trying to look at records of high-profile patients.

Lois Richardson of the California Hospital Assn. said hospitals do "everything they possibly can" to educate workers about patient confidentiality.

"People still gossip," she said. "They're nosy; they're curious. They want to be able to tell their friends, 'I saw Britney's records.' Their friends are asking. That's just how people are."

When discipline is imposed, maybe employees will think twice the next time, she said. "Maybe they won't peek as often."

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charles.ornstein@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Medical snoops

Instances in which hospital workers were disciplined for inappropriately looking at patients' records:

September 2004: Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York suspended 17 workers for trying to access the medical records of former President Clinton, who had undergone heart surgery there.

July 2005: Kootenai Medical Center in Idaho disciplined four workers for looking at the medical records of an 8-year-old girl, Shasta Groene, who was admitted after she was found with a man who later pleaded guilty to murdering members of her family

September 2006: New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. said it would suspend 39 workers without pay for looking at the records of a 7-year-old girl whose death from beatings led to major changes in the city's child welfare system.

May 2007: Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside fired nine workers and suspended another for attempting to take a photo of a patient in a psychiatric unit, looking at another patient's X-ray or failing to report the breaches.

July 2007: Park Nicollet Clinic in Minnesota said it had suspended more than 100 workers that year, mostly for looking into electronic records of relatives or friends.

October 2007: Palisades Medical Center in New Jersey suspended 27 workers for a month without pay for looking at the medical records of actor George Clooney, who was injured in a motorcycle accident.

March 2008: UCLA Medical Center takes steps to fire 13 workers and suspend six others for snooping in Britney Spears' medical records. Six doctors also face discipline.

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Source: Times research

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