Imagine receiving a phone call explaining that your personal health information was made public.
Last month, 140 Kaiser Permanente (KP) members in the Northern California area were informed that some of their health documents were made accessible on a public Internet site. A disgruntled, ex-KP employee posted the private information on her Web blog to expose the health care giant's alleged breach of information.
Ripples of Reaction
"Obviously, the effected members are upset it happened," explained Matthew Schiffgens, director, issues management, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. "But the members are thankful that we were the ones that informed them of the issue," he stated.
Shiffgens also mentioned that the story actually broke because one of the members contacted was an editor at the San Jose Mercury News.
The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed KP of the breach, after Elisa D. Cooper-a former KP Web coordinator-filed a complaint with OCR. She claimed it was KP that included private patient information on systems diagrams posted on the Web and that she pointed it out.
Updates of Cooper's complaint, currently titled "The DMHC Lies," can be viewed on the Internet.
Cooper's accusation against the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) is a response to DMHC's recent involvement with the case and its statement released on March 17.
"I just re-read the DMHC order/threat letter. It says 'DMHC authorities have determined that in July 2004 . a former Kaiser Permanente employee, posted unauthorized personal and confidential patient information including names, lab orders, medical record numbers and other unique and identifiable information on a publicly accessible Web site,'" Cooper explained on her Live JournalT entry.
She exclaimed, "Good grief," and continued her argument. "I did not 'post' the Kaiser diagrams in July; I discovered and revealed them. I provided a link to them. I reported that site to anyone who would listen."
She stated that DMHC didn't investigate anything. "They are Kaiser mouth-pieces, and they just corroborated Kaiser's cover story for the public!" Cooper attested.
"It is not possible for an investigation to determine that I was the one who posted those systems diagrams in July because I didn't do it.
"Behold the further proof that Kaiser has the power to overwrite reality with whatever is most suitable to them and most destructive to their critics," she stated.
DMHC's argument, stated in the release, explained that for the first time since its establishment in 2000, it took action against an individual. The department was formed to protect HMO patient rights, and Director Cindy Ehnes felt it was necessary to take "action against an individual, not a health plan, for causing irreparable harm to consumers," she explained.
"We must protect confidential medical information at all costs and its unauthorized use is one of the greatest fears of any patient," Ehnes stated in the release. "Even though taking action against an individual is not commonplace for the DMHC, in this instance it is extremely appropriate."