Exposure of numerous patient records on a Bonita Springs roadway

Patients trust their doctors with some of their most intimate information. But that trust may have been violated as many confidential medical records from patients in Southwest Florida have ended up in the public domain.

One personal injury attorney said the incident could have been prevented as there are businesses that destroy documents to prevent unlawful exposure.

Richard Purtz, co-manager and partner at Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, PA in Fort Myers, said he was stunned when he found out about the exposure of confidential medical documents.

“There’s an invention, it’s been out for many years now,” said the personal injury attorney. “It’s called a shredding machine.”

The private patient documents, which were spilled on S Tamiami Trail in Bonita Springs, were slightly torn while clearly showing the names of patients and their lab work.

“It is a direct violation of HIPPA,” said Purtz, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPPA provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding patient medical information.

Purtz said the HIPPA law puts the responsibility on health care providers to protect patients’ information. Otherwise, the data may get into the wrong hands. He said the government could fine the person who lost the confidential documents $50,000.

“For instance, if someone has their identity stolen through this process,” Purtz said, “their credit ruined or has their home sold out from underneath them.”

If a person is a victim of a HIPPA violation, he or she can file a claim under Florida’s constitutional right to privacy.

Shredding the documents was a preventive measure that could have kept the information safe.

“It’s peoples information,” said Anthony Rety, vice-president of operations for Safeguard Shredding. “It’s private. It’s sensitive. It’s something you want to keep yourself.”

At Safeguard Shredding, Rety said even on the way over to their facility, a patient’s doctor notes are locked in place.

“The material must be locked once it enters the vehicle or trucks, then it’s wheeled in here in our locked facility,” Rety said. “Once it’s in here, goes up on the tipper; shredded up in the machine, bailed, then comes out just like it is behind me!”

As a HIPPA compliant site, workers ensure all records end up unrecognizable. That prevents a nefarious person from trying to put the private medical information together. Before being hired by the scanning and shredding business, there are several requirements to prevent internal leaks of information.

“All employees must take this test about secure document management,” Rety said. “Be drug tested and background checked every six months.”

Reporter:Anika Henanger
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