In medical litigation such as personal injury or mass tort cases, reviewing the plaintiffs’ medical records becomes necessary to understand the medical aspects of the case. In fact, details of the injury and the extent of damage can be understood and evaluated only with the data contained in these documents. Given the inevitability of medical records in such litigation, it is only natural that they are handled a lot by lawyers and their office staff. It is their responsibility to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the data and prevent it from falling into the hands of a third party even inadvertently. The same goes for healthcare providers and facilities dealing with sensitive patient records.
The shocking fact is that the confidentiality of medical records is often compromised resulting in considerable distress for patients as well as providers. Los Angeles Daily Times recently carried one such story about a woman who attempted suicide and was brought to a Los Angeles County emergency room in 2012. A hospital employee took her photograph that has appeared on a website that features gory images now two years later in 2014. This is a breach of federal patient privacy law and is a punishable offense. The woman who recovered is now suing the hospital and the people involved for breaching her personal medical records and causing emotional distress.
The danger inherent in such disclosures is that it can lead to misuse of information and identity theft. It is quite disturbing that the number of such incidents investigated by the California Department of Public Health shot up to 4,213 last year – this is an 81% increase from 2009 when the number of cases was 2,333. A large amount of confidentiality breaches occur when documents are delivered, faxed or mailed to the wrong recipient inadvertently. The disclosed data may or may not be misused but that is not an excuse for being careless with sensitive healthcare information.
State law in California requires hospitals to report breaches of patient medical data. Often, violators will have to pay a hefty penalty. In this EHR era, it is up to providers to be extremely cautious in matters of this kind and implement adequate security measures to prevent such occurrences.
Recently, Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha fired two nurses who had allegedly looked at the medical file of an American aid worker who was infected with Ebola. Hospital authorities affirm that they have zero tolerance for such inappropriate behavior on the part of its staff, which is indeed a relief though it does not fully guarantee the safety of patient records.
Legal professionals who need to handle sensitive patient information can associate with a reputable service provider that can collect the necessary documents, take care of medical record organization, and prepare medical case history and summary as well as a succinct medical case chronology. Reliable firms have excellent security measures in place to ensure confidentiality of the documents.