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NZ Doctor Series - Privacy Matters (# 47)

Traitors under our skin?

When Ross Compton’s house caught fire in September 2016 he was able to escape unscathed, with a suitcase full of clothes and the charger for his external heart pump. But when the 59-year-old US man explained to arson investigators how he’d broken the window with his cane and hurled his most important belongings out the window before scrambling to safety, they weren’t convinced.  A...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy matters (# 48)

Health on the Road

It’s Asia-Pacific Privacy Week, so as winter creeps up on us it’s a good time to throw a log on the fire and think about how to keep information safe.  One option is to put it on the couch next to you – both snuggly and secure – but that probably doesn’t meet the RNZCGP Cornerstone standard. It also doesn’t meet the needs of modern health professionals providing decentralised and community based health services.

In recognition of...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy matters (# 49)

Can I tell the cops?

In your job, you have to look after some of the most intimate details of your patients’ lives. This is a great responsibility, and your patients trust and expect you to not just tell anyone. This obligation is recognised in the Health Information Privacy Code. Rule 11 of the Code says you cannot disclose health information you hold about an individual, unless there is a va...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy matters (#46)

Privacy in practice

Scenario 1

Jenny, a practice manager from a medical centre in the Wairarapa,* called our Enquiries line. A patient had taken a support person with her to an appointment, and then complained that her GP had revealed sensitive things about her that she didn’t consider relevant, and which her support person didn’t previously know. What sho...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy matters (#45)

Three stories about health privacy complaints

As an Investigating Officer at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner I investigate interesting complaints from many interesting people.

Urine testing at work

NZ Doctor series - Privacy matters (#44)

Don’t dig a bigger hole

A doctor closed the doors of his practice after years of treating patients, and was left with a substantial amount of information to dispose of. Instead of shredding the documents or arranging for some other type of secure destruction, the doctor decided he would do it himself - by hiring a digger, and digging a...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy Matters (#41)

That profound and secret mystery

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”

Charles Dickens wrote this in A Tale of Two Cities and it’s as true in 2015 as it was in 18...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy Matters (#40)

Speaking to the world

Communication always involves a speaker and a listener.  At its simplest, and sometimes most profound, there is only one of each.  A parent telling a story to their child tucked up in bed, partners whispering secrets, a patient and their doctor.   Ever since cavepeople decided to invent speech instead of grunting and throwing heavy metal hand signs at e...

NZ Doctor series - Privacy Matters (#39)

Testing times

We live in science-fictional times. You probably carry around a powerful computer that checks in with a range of multinational corporations a few times every minute, reports your location, stores your photos, records your footsteps, maybe even logs the fluctuations in your heartbeat.  

NZ Doctor Series - Privacy Matters (# 32)

As I write this, around half the population of New Zealand is sitting under the corrugated iron  roof of a warehouse in South Auckland.  Admittedly each person is only represented by a few spots of blood taken from them shortly after their birth.  But if your blood is in that warehouse, the DNA in those few drops is all a lab technician would need to unlock a wealth of information about your past and possible future.

The blood spots are held, of course, on the more than two million...

NZ Doctor Series - Privacy Matters (# 31)

It seems inevitable that we will have a largely electronic health record sooner rather than later. Sensitive information which might otherwise have been buried in a paper file somewhere will be electronically accessible forever.  To quote US security expert Bruce Schneier, ‘we are embarking on a grand experiment of never forgetting’.  

And where information sticks around forever, then the risk from ‘employee browsing’ increases sharply.  It’s easy enough to imagine a poli...