News / Winnipeg

'Extremely concerned:' Manitoba ombudsman investigates MRI privacy breach

A confidential list of high-profile patients, who apparently jumped to the top of the MRI wait list, was leaked to the media this week.

Noreen Smith of Bobcaygeon, Ont. is secured and about to be placed in an MRI to start a procedure for essential tremor, a common neurological condition that causes uncontrollable shaking, in a handout photo.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-SUNNYBROOK HEALTH SCIENCES CENTRE-DOUG NICHOLSON

Noreen Smith of Bobcaygeon, Ont. is secured and about to be placed in an MRI to start a procedure for essential tremor, a common neurological condition that causes uncontrollable shaking, in a handout photo.

Manitoba's ombudsman is investigating after a confidential list of patients who have undergone MRIs – including pro athletes and other high-profile public figures – was leaked to the media.

A number of news outlets publicized the list this week, following a provincial auditor general's report that stated some people have to wait longer for magnetic resonance imaging tests because others are given priority.

Those patients who moved to the top of the list include Winnipeg Jets players, politicians and senior Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) officials, according to several reports.

“I am extremely concerned that the privacy of individuals has been violated by the disclosure of their personal health information in contravention of PHIA (Personal Health Information Act),” said ombudsman Charlene Paquin in a news release.

Information under the PHIA includes personal health information that identifies a person, from health-care history to procedures and diagnoses. It's considered to be the "most sensitive of all information about individuals," states the release.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is for all trustees of personal health information to remember that they are in possession of some of the most sensitive information about Manitobans," said Paquin. "This puts those trustees and their employees in a powerful position, especially when people seek care at a very vulnerable and emotional time in their lives, such as during the diagnosis or treatment of an illness."

The WRHA recently announced it will also be conducting its own internal review. The ombudsman will be using that information for its investigation. Anyone who was affected by this breach has the right to launch a privacy complaint to the ombudsman's office. 

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