There are lots of stories about electronic medical records being compromised, and either stolen, or mistakenly made available on the internet. Paper records, however are not immune from unauthorized disclosure. The paper records of 28 patients from Central Florida Regional Hospital ended up in the hands of a Salt Lake City elementary school teacher earlier this year.
The hospital shipped three boxes containing medical records to a company in Las Vegas for a Medicare audit. Two of the boxes arrived safely, but one went missing somewhere along the route. When an auditor noticed the missing box, they contacted the hospital, who in turn contacted UPS two weeks later. Somehow, the package wasn’t able to be delivered, and was sold to a surplus store in Salt Lake City, Utah, for about $20. It was eventually bought by an elementary school teacher who wanted scrap paper for her students. She noticed and reported the error before distributing the records to students.
Unfortunately, the hospital did not immediately notify the patients that their records were lost. Several of the patients are now deceased, making them prime targets for identity theft. The records contained detailed medical histories, as well as phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers and insurance information.
Even though electronic medical records might get most of the bad press when it comes to security, they can actually be much safer than paper records. File transfers are almost always encrypted, making it nearly impossible to intercept and read the records. On the other hand, there is no security for paper files. Anyone can simply open a package and read printed information. In addition to being more secure, electronic records are also much cheaper to process. There is no need to spend time photocopying records and shipping them, which can be expensive due to their weight. Finally, electronic medical records can arrive at their destination much faster than ground shipping.