Tewksbury Hospital clerk snooped in patient records





A clerk at the state-run Tewksbury Hospital inappropriately viewed the electronic medical records of 1,100 patients from 2003 to 2017, the Department of Public Health revealed Friday.

The clerk, who no longer works at the hospital, had access to records as part of her job, but snooped into patient files she was not supposed to see, according to Tom Lyons, health department spokesman.

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There is no evidence that the information she viewed was misused or ever left the hospital, Lyons said.

The privacy breach came to light in April after a former patient complained, Lyons said. He declined to provide details on how the patient found out and said he did not know why the clerk read the records.

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The clerk viewed names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, gender, diagnoses, and other information about medical treatment at Tewksbury Hospital. For fewer than half the 1,100 patients, she also opened tabs that revealed Social Security numbers.

“Currently there is no indication that any patient information was misused, only that it was improperly accessed,” Lyons said.

After investigating the clerk’s actions, Lyons said, the hospital immediately made a technical fix to better protect Social Security numbers. It is continuing to examine its protocols on access to private information and strengthening staff training on privacy and security, he said.

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Tewksbury is one of four hospitals operated by the Department of Public Health. It treats some 220 patients with complex, chronic medical conditions that are often combined with mental illness or developmental disabilities, or both.

Tewksbury Hospital has notified affected patients in writing, if current contact information was available, and also posted a notification on its website.

As required, the hospital has also notified state and federal agencies, including the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the Massachusetts Office for Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

People can get more information at the Tewksbury Hospital website or by calling the hospital at one of two toll-free numbers, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: for patients treated in hospital medical units, (888) 850-7541; for patients treated in hospital mental health units, (888) 850-7571.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer

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