Patients React to Medical Records Found by NewsChannel 11 - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

11/20/03

Patients React to Medical Records Found by NewsChannel 11

Two weeks ago, as part of a story on the growing problem of identity theft, we told you about Lubbock medical facilities which had apparently discarded private documents of some patients into dumpsters behind their offices. A lot has changed since we started this investigation over a month ago. We've spent time tracking down patients whose private medical records were found in the trash.

Two weeks ago, we told you about personal medical information we found in several dumpsters located behind medical clinics and offices. Lubbock Bone and Joint was one location we found medical records.

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Before our story was even broadcast, they told us they were taking corrective action. Administrator Bob Hendricks issued this statement: "At Lubbock Sports Medicine, we value the privacy of our patients and are very concerned by the inadvertent disposal of some patient information. We have redoubled our efforts to prevent this from happening in the future. This includes employee education and the addition of several additional shredders to insure any private information is destroyed before it every leaves the building."

The next medical facility where we found private medical documents was Planned Parenthood. Both of them had the name, social security number, address, and specifics about diagnosis. The CEO suggested that the records could have been thrown away by the patients themselves saying: "A possible explanation for this occurrence is that the patient took this piece of paper and threw it in the dumpster, thus explaining why there was a piece of paper outside the large trash bag."

We found one of the women and showed her the document, I asked her if this document had ever been in her possession and she said quote: "I haven't been there (Planned Parenthood) in over a year. I have never seen the paper before and there is no way I threw it away."

We also tracked down patients from Dr. Attar's office on 3425 22nd Place where we originally found private documents in a dumpster behind his office. One of the documents was a pharmacy request containing a name, address, phone number, and even prescription information. The patient for whom the prescription was intended agreed to speak with us.

"It looks like a prescription, and I've never seen this piece of paper -- and evidently, they just threw it in the trash. It makes me angry because this is private information. It's got information like my address and so forth that shouldn't be on it -- and my name. I had seen the special on TV and never even thought about me," says a former patient of Dr. Attar.

The doctor's spokesperson had this response: "The document should have been placed in a box for shredding. Instead, it may have been placed in the trash can accidentally or could have missed the box and landed on the floor and mistakenly thrown away."

Dr. Attar's office did take action to prevent future access to their dumpster a week after our investigation. The city dumpster was replaced with a new one and is now serviced by a private company. A bar and lock was also added. The spokesperson said: "To prevent scavenging and from this happening again."

As for the patient, she hopes other medical facilities take note.

"I hope they learn a lesson and start taking better care because you know patients have a right not to have their names all over the trash," says the patient.

We do want to point out that privacy requirements are generally observed by medical facilities in Lubbock, including the ones in this story, but as we demonstrated, despite good intentions and office procedures, private patient information can and does end up in the wrong places.

As we mentioned in our first report, there is a new set of laws called the HIPAA Act that are very specific in how you handle private medical information, and we're told by officials at Covenant and UMC that violating the HIPAA Act can result in fines of $50,000 or more, and in some cases, even jail time.

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