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Why the medical community needs to take greater precaution in keeping records secure
In this issue we will discuss the measures that medical organizations should be taking to prevent document exposure.
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For patients, confidentiality isn’t a privilege or a nice-to-have—it’s a right. With medical records containing everything from medical history to financial reports to personal contact information, ensuring that documents are stored and disposed of securely is of the utmost importance, both ethically and legally. In the United States, information collected by healthcare organizations on individuals is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
However, recent media reports have shown that patient record security needs to be improved. In July, a federal grand jury indicted a former employee of University of Maryland Medical Center, with three others accused, for stealing patient identities to open credit accounts. A similar situation occurred recently at the Troy Regional Medical Center in Alabama in which 880 patients were notified about a data breach of personal information, including birthdays and social security numbers.
These instances are becoming more and more common, leading to widespread feelings of concern. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, breaches are three times more likely to happen in a larger organization than in a small office—a fact that threatens not only confidentiality, but also the integrity of the medical community.
There are many causes of a potential confidentiality breach. Among them are:
In the recent Shred-it Information Security Tracker, responses from individuals working in the medical sector showed that:
The main way to prevent breaches from happening is to make document security a priority. While budgetary constraints or lack of knowledge may be a contributing factor to these lapses, the repercussions that result from a data breach are too damaging to ignore. Other options to consider include:
When it comes to disposing of documents, enacting a “shred all” policy can help ensure that unneeded papers are properly destroyed. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services requires “proper disposal methods,” which include shredding personal health information in paper records so that the personal health information is rendered unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise cannot be reconstructed.
Using the cross-cut method of shredding, Shred-it’s procedures make it nearly impossible to piece together the information once it has been shredded. Furthermore, Shred-it also destroys hard drives, meaning that medical records that are stored electronically can also be erased safely and efficiently. Customers also have the option of watching the process from inside the truck, making sure it’s secure.
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