Cases of Sensitive Patient Information Found in Dumpsters

Improper disposal of patient records is a common HIPAA violation. Here are a few excerpts from cases that have occurred recently: 

  • Unshredded patient documents from the Maine VA Medical Center were found in a dumpster last month in Augusta, Maine. A spokesman from the medical center said no information had been stolen…
  • A man was found diving in a dumpster near the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Plymouth, Indiana. The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, stated that he found unshredded documents including doctor’s appointment books, patient names, and procedures done.
  • Records of hundreds of patients, including information about diagnoses and discharge dates were left in a dumpster behind Staten Island University Hospital’s South Shore Site in New York.
  • Stacks of medical records and patient files were found in a dumpster outside of a doctor’s office in St. John’s, Missouri. The doctor released a statement after the investigation simply saying, “In an effort to dispose of some files that were many years old, I made a mistake by using improper procedures for disposal of patient records. Medical practices always have an obligation to protect patient information, regardless of the age of the record. I sincerely regret that this occurred.”
  • Unshredded documents were found in plain view in an open dumpster used by Cornell Pharmacy in Colorado.

Damaging information can be found on these documents. In all these cases, identity thieves and even fraudsters could’ve used the information to pose as doctors or pharmacists and extract private data by calling patients.

These random cases of documents not being destroyed and disposed of correctly show a breach in patient confidentiality and are in clear violation of federal HIPAA regulations. HIPAA allows dumpster disposal, as long as the records are unreadable. In all these cases, the records were very much readable.

Attorneys for these facilities state, “The failure to shred them was inadvertent.” Hopefully soon, with all of the fines and embarrassing negative PR, these facilities will learn their lesson, always shred their documents, and keep their trash secure.