Lancet Labs doesn't respect your privacy

Gina, my wife, has just a shocking experience with Lancet Laboratories, one of South Africa’s biggest pathologists and one of the two main companies that handle blood tests and other pathology services. You can read the full story on her blog but the bottom line is that Lancet seems to be in the habit of sending statements with details of medical tests done to the wrong patients.

This is shocking! Its one thing to send a statement with payment information to the wrong person by mistake but these statements have details of tests conducted. That information is deeply personal, should be kept confidential and disclosing that information to other patients seemingly arbitrarily is a serious breach of those patients’ right to privacy.

So, just who/what is Lancet? Here is some information from their site:

Who are we?

Lancet is a pathology laboratory of accredited international standard providing diagnostic pathology services to the private medical sector, as well as industry in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana. We currently process more than 8000 patients a day, offering a full range of pathology services, from sophisticated Molecular and Cytogenetic investigations to advanced chemical analyses.

The laboratory is owned as a traditional medical partnership, where pathologists provide a professional diagnostic pathology service and also are shareholders in the business. Forty specialist pathologists, each with their area of expertise, head up the service, not only to ensure the quality and validity of investigations, but also to offer a consultative service to medical colleagues, managed health care institutions, the insurance industry, and to the occupational health environment.

What do we believe?

Lancet prides itself in providing diagnostic excellence. We have developed a reputation for providing a quality pathology diagnostic service at an affordable price to both the private and public medical sectors as well as industry. To achieve this consistent quality, Lancet is SANAS accredited, adhering to the international standards set out according to ISO Guide 17025 throughout its structure.

Lancet invests in the continuous training and improvement of all its employees in order to achieve the highest possible standards in the quality of our testing and in providing service excellence.

We believe that we have a valuable contribution to make in the medical community of South Africa, providing our public with medical care of the highest international standards. We have a significant role to play in providing both diagnostic and therapeutic monitoring tools in the enormous HIV epidemic facing our continent.

I just tweeted this incident and received replies from at least two other people who have had this happen to them. Bear in mind it isn’t just one set of personal information sent to the wrong person at a time, it is probably two sets each time. In this case Gina received a Mrs Prinsloo’s statement and someone else probably received hers. For the three people who I know of at the moment, six sets of personal information (including information about medical tests conducted for those people) have been sent to the wrong person.

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How many other people has this happened to? Given Lancet’s lack of a meaningful response to this frightening privacy breach, it has probably happened to a significant number of people. That means that HIV/AIDS testing information, cancer tests, pregnancy tests, STD tests and a host of other deeply personal medical tests are detailed on statements being sent arbitrarily to the wrong patients.

The challenge is trying to work out who to raise this issue with? Lancet’s website is one big Flash site and trying to navigate it and find meaningful information about who to contact about this sort of this is almost impossible. So, I guess we blog it, spread the word about how untrustworthy Lancet is with people we know and medical professionals we use and try mitigate the risk …






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