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California hospitals fined as medical records are breached

At Marysville's Rideout Memorial Hospital, 17 security guards rifled through the personal health data of 33 patients, using computers to peer into what should have been private and protected electronic health records, state investigators said.

At UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center, prying eyes invaded the digital lab records of a "deceased patient" – identified by some news accounts as Michael Jackson.

This past week, California regulators fined five hospitals $675,000 for these and other invasions of patient privacy. The disclosures were the latest to highlight the potential pitfalls of the national push to expand electronic health records.

Putting sensitive patient information on computers often means more people can get access to it. And human nature being what it is, some will take advantage of the access.

"Technology can help us, but at the end of the day, there are human beings behind the machines," said Deven McGraw, the health privacy project director at the Center for Democracy and Technology.