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  • Bags Of Personal Info Found Outside Doctors’ Offices

    Posted on April 15th, 2009 admin No comments

    by David Quinlan
    KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Consumer Reporter

    SEATTLE – You’ve heard the horror stories of identity thieves hijacking your credit, your name and your livelihood. But what about your medical records? What happens if they get into the wrong hands?

    What we found in dumpsters outside pharmacies and doctor offices filled with patients’ medical records — is not only disturbing, but possibly illegal.

    Our investigation exposed a wide-spread problem of potential identity theft and has now sparked a state investigation.

    Jeff Herman had no idea how we knew so much about him.

    We found his prescription drug information, address and phone number in a dumpster outside a Seattle doctor’s office.

    “I was shocked and felt a little betrayed,” Herman said. “It’s disturbing to think what’s going on out there with our information.”

    In the course of our four month investigation, we uncovered bags full of private patient information recklessly discarded in the trash right outside pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

    We even found syringes, urine samples, social security numbers and someone’s STD test results.

    At Seattle-based American Data Guard more than 300 tons of private and secure information is dumped, sorted and shredded each month.

    Data Guard general manager Kara Rudoff says thieves can use someone’s personal medical information to steal his or her identity and even obtain prescription drugs.

    “When you’re dealing with protected health information, you have to keep in mind that those medical records have every piece of information about us,” Rudoff said. “I think this is a good wake-up call to people. This is happening out in the market place. It’s our information on the streets.”

    At a Bremerton pharmacy we discovered pill bottles loaded with patient information, anti-depression drug prescriptions and refill orders.

    We shared our findings with Steven Saxe of the Washington State Department of Health.

    “This would be a violation of federal HIPAA laws,” Saxe said.

    Although it is not required for health facilities to shred medical information, it still must be safe-guarded.

    “This should be destroyed because it has contact information for patients on it as well as medications the patient is taking,” Saxe said.

    At the state’s request, we handed everything we found over to health officials after they promised to investigate why these pharmacies and doctors offices failed to destroy private patient information.

    “You raise some good questions,” Saxe said.

    As for Herman, he’s talking with his doctor, but worries what other information may have been dumped in the garbage.

    “How many times has my social security number been dropped in there?” Herman asked.

    In other states, pharmacies have received hefty fines and doctors have even lost their licenses for incorrectly disposing sensitive records.

    Washington State Health officials are taking this seriously — they not only are looking into our findings, but encourage anyone who feels their privacy may have been breached to contact their office at 360-236-4700.


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