As if growing concern about medical identity theft due to the online storage of records wasn't bad enough, thousands of Boston-area patients now apparently need to worry about their paper records falling into the wrong hands, as well. A photographer with the Boston Globe discovered intact hospital and insurance records from at least four different hospitals in a large pile at a public dump while getting rid of his trash in late July, according to the newspaper.
The documents, which should have been either shredded or incinerated, David Szabo--of healthcare law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge--confirmed to the Globe, contained everything from names and addresses of patients to results of cancer tests and lab work information from miscarriages.
Doctors with two of the hospitals--Kevin Dole of Caritas Carney and John Blanchette of Holyoke Medical Center--both said they used the same billing company--Goldthwait Associates, which would have been responsible for getting rid of the physical records. Goldthwait also provides billing services for the two other known hospitals involved, Milton Hospital and Milford Regional Medical Center.
"[W]e had an understanding that they know how to dispose of medical records," Blanchette said. "We've done business with this company for 22 years and we're pretty upset about this. Everything as far as we knew was fine."
Most of the records found dated to 2009. Anthony Turco, a lawyer for Goldthwait's current owner, told the Globe that since his client had taken over the company this past June, only 2010 records had been disposed of; he added that the company's prior owner, Joseph Gagnon, dealt with all documents dated prior to 2010. When reached for comment by the newspaper, Gagnon said he wasn't able to comment due to potential legal fallout.
Hospital officials think that all of the records at the dump likely dated back two to three years. To figure out who needs to be notified of the breach, those officials now are determining which patients underwent pathology testing; Milton Hospital estimates that it will have to notify between 8,000 and 12,000, while Holyoke's numbers double that.
A ruling has yet to be made determining if the hospitals, the doctors or the billing company ultimately are responsible for the incident.