The last time we checked in with a Shred Alert, a hospital’s records were found blowing in the breeze in a neighborhood field. This time, the records didn’t get quite so far. Unfortunately they still ended up somewhere they should never be: a trash can.
Throwing away records with confidential information simply isn’t good enough these days considering how quickly an opportunistic identity thief can compromise credit histories – or something far worse. Still, accidents happen and some people just don’t realize the implications of tossing paper in the garbage.
A regional TV station reported that boxes full of confidential health records were found stashed in a trash bin nearby. A local citizen told the station’s news team that he came across the records when he was throwing out some garbage of his own.
Included in the records were medical conditions and treatments, names, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers of patients. In other words, it was a treasure trove for identity thieves.
Fortunately, all he had in mind was to get the word out about this shining example of document destruction oversights.
It turned out the records belonged to a medical clinic that shut its doors after losing its contract with the state in September 2011. Contacted by reporters, the former owner of the clinic said the records must have ended up in the trash after he failed to pay the rent on a storage units and its contents were auctioned off.
Why It’s Bad
With incidents such as this, one must first think about the identity theft implications of having such information exposed. Aside from presenting a potential threat to a patients financial or physical security, medical records contain an added layer of risk.
For example, details of pre-existing conditions could impact a person while searching for a job as a result of the stigma that continues to be attached to certain conditions. Revelations related to mental illness, for example, can have a dramatic effect on someone’s personal and professional lives.
How to Avoid It
The best way to avoid similar situations is to follow the guidelines and requirements of industry best practices and legal regulations. In basic terms, all medical facilities must implement a wide-reaching shredding program to properly and completely destroy records.