A Scam Targeting Doctors Results in a Breach of Patient Confidentiality

10 Apr 2017

Nerissa Ferrie

by Ms Nerissa Ferrie

Stethoscope on keyboard showing a privacy and confidentiality key

One of our GP Members sought medico-legal advice after inadvertently releasing a patient’s personal information to an unknown third party.

The doctor gave permission for us to publish this case to allow us to warn other Members to be vigilant when it comes to releasing patient details.

Posing as a doctor from a large tertiary hospital, the unknown third party called reception at the practice and asked for urgent information about a patient who had collapsed and was currently unconscious. The patient was well known to the GP, who felt reassured that the “doctor” on the phone provided the patient’s full name and address. The “doctor” then asked the GP for the patient’s date of birth and medical history.

The patient had a complex medical history, so the GP provided urgent information over the phone, and asked for the hospital fax number so he could forward a copy of relevant medical records.

After several unsuccessful attempts to send the information to the fax number provided by the caller, the practice rang the hospital to clarify the contact details. The practice was advised that the doctor in question worked at the hospital, but had not called the practice and was not treating the patient. The hospital did not seem surprised and indicated that this was not the first time the hospital had been used by scammers to secure a patient’s personal information.

In accordance with recommendations under the privacy legislation, the doctor called the patient to notify of the breach, and to warn of possible identity theft. 

Doctors often provide information to third parties in good faith, particularly if they think a patient’s life may be at risk. If you are ever unsure of the identity of the caller, you can advise that you will call them back at the hospital immediately so you can verify whether the request is legitimate.

This blog contains general information only. We recommend you contact your medical defence organisation or insurer when you require specific advice in relation to medico-legal matters.



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