Denver: Private Patient Health Records Found in Alley

Almost 70 patient files containing sensitive personal and medical data have been found in an alley in Denver, CO.

The files include details of patients’ medical histories, insurance information, and Social Security numbers – The types of information chased by identity thieves and fraudsters. The paperwork had been placed in a dumpster accessible by the public.

The records came from the Blue Skies Clinic in Boulder, CO., which was bought more than a decade ago from chiropractor Otsie Stowell, according to Fox31, Denver. Two chiropractors took over the management the records of approximately 800-1000 patients when they bought the practice.

Some of those records were filed in the basement of the practice, which was recently cleared out. It  no clear how many records were disposed in the alley, although only 70 files were found.

The records were disposed of in error and no one at the clinic was aware that sensitive information was being stored in the basement, according to a statement released to FOX31 by one of the chiropractors, Rory Lee. Lee also apologized for the error and said the clinic will be doing all it can to rectify the situation.

HIPAA Rules state that physical records containing PHI should be disposed of securely when they are no longer required. While HIPAA Rules do not specify the method that must be used to dispose of medical information, whatever method chosen must ensure that all of the information is “unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise cannot be reconstructed.” For physical records, HIPAA recommends “shredding, burning, pulping, or pulverizing” prior to disposal.

Similar rules are applicable to the disposal of electronic protected health information. HIPAA suggests using a method like clearing, purging, degaussing, exposing media to strong magnetic fields, or destroying electronic media by disintegration, pulverization, melting, incinerating, or shredding.

When a business is closing or about to be sold, OCR suggests covered bodies should consider contacting patients and offering them the chance to collect their medical records. If medical records are handed over to the new owners, they assume responsibility and the record must be safeguarded in accordance with the requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule.