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Legislation signed by Schwarzenegger means big trouble for hospital snoops


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took action today to enable the state to impose stiff fines on hospital employees who snoop in the files of patients -- months after California first lady Maria Shriver was one of several celebrities whose privacy was invaded at UCLA Medical Center. The governor approved the creation of a new state Office of Health Information Integrity, with power to review security plans and violations and assess fines of up to $250,000 against people who violate patient privacy.

The governor’s decision follows a series of reports by The Times during the last year that at least 127 employees at UCLA peeked at the confidential medical records of celebrities including Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett and Shriver.

"Repeated violations of patient confidentiality are potentially harmful to Californians, which is why financial penalties are needed to ensure employees and facilities do not breach confidential medical information," Schwarzenegger said in a statement after signing AB 211 by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), which creates the new oversight office and fines on individuals.

He also signed a companion measure that allows fines of up to $250,000 against hospitals and health clinics for such breaches and increases the fines for serious medical errors from the current maximum of $50,000 to a limit of $125,000. SB 541 was written by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara).

Schwarzenegger was outraged when his wife’s records were breached by an employee, saying no one should have that happen.

"Californians seeking care at a hospital or health facility should never have to worry that their private medical information will be shared," the governor said today.

-- Patrick McGreevy

Photo: Farrah Fawcett. Credit:  Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

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