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What happened to HIPAA? .. Throwing medical records in the garbage?

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 How My Diabetes Became Public Knowledge,

All physicians know that patient data is confidential … Unfortunately lawyers and businessmen are less bound by morality and I get a lot of calls from companies knowing that I have diabetes,

As a medical school professor, I am required to take onerous training in patient privacy.  Mostly this is under the HIPAA law, a law passed to protect patients from abuse of their health data by employers or insurance companies.  Unfortunately, what has happened is that businesses their lawyers have figured out ways around HIPAA.  These folks have no more respect for your medical records than they do for the wages paid at Walmart.

Throwing Patient Records in The Garbage.  One experience I have had with a major law firm illustrates the ethical differences between lawyers and doctors.  The incident involved a physician who died.  The law … and what doctors are taught … is very clear that medical records are protected under HIPAA and must be disposed of in a way that assures confidentiality after every effort is made to preserve the information.  For example, after my death my medical records will belong to my heirs. Since my reocrds are held by UW Medicine, I know they will be protected.

In this case, however, the lawyers somehow reached a different conclusion.  The records were simply gathered in garbage bags and supposedly destroyed.  Any physician or hospital doing this would have been subject to huge fines. Since I knew this was happening, as an officer of a medical school I was required to report the abuse to the UW HIPAA office.  I did so and was told to report the abuse of the law to the federal officials.  I did so but learned that the federal and state officers do not have the money to pursue such a case,  They could take no action unless I told a patient what had been done with their records and the patient or patients filed a complaint.

In other word the lawyers’ lack of ethics trumped the patients legal rights.

Getting Your Data Without Getting Your Records. This is only one example of how the lack of ethics trumps HIPAA law.  The common trick is to avoid ever accessing the official record while getting the data in other ways.  Data mining forms have easy access to demographic records and to sales data from drugs stores and hospitals.  It is very easy for computers to use these data to figure out that the guy living at my address is probably an old, fat guy and then use that to sell me stuff by phone calls.

With a little skill the phone marketers can get a lot more info .. soon my private data is a product for sale to folks selling everything from motorized wheel chairs to Viagra to Burial insurance.

One example of how bad this gets was reported by the AARP:

The phone at my home rang one recent Wednesday evening, and on the other end was a woman with exciting news for me: “You qualify to receive free diabetes supplies.” Records identified me as having the condition, she said.

She was calling from “downtown California” on behalf of the National Diabetes Association, a name she said so quickly that I might have confused it with the widely known American Diabetes Association.

 

Telemarketers offering free diabetic supplies may be after your personal info. — Photo by: Hola Images/Getty Images

Her offer, of course, seemed less than authentic, and for two other reasons. First, I don’t have diabetes. And second, she was addressing me by the fake name I use when I list my phone number in public directories — whenever I hear that name, I know right away the caller is a telemarketer looking for business.

I played along. Her next statement was the final tip-off to a potential rip-off: “Before the supplies can arrive, I need to confirm your condition with your age, Social Security number and the name and phone number of your doctor.”

 You should never give out personal identifiers like those. They can be used to steal your identity for financial fraud or to file false claims with Medicare or other insurers.

The National Diabetes Association, whose business license is listed as “suspended” in California state online records, did not return telephone and email queries from Scam Alert. The organization operates at least two websites and describes itself as “a non-profit organization that aims to improve the diabetes management of the 24 million Americans affected by the disease.”

The American Diabetes Association would not comment on the sound-alike organization, but in February issued a statement about calls falsely being made in its own name.

“We never ask an individual for personal information such as Social Security number, birth date, Medicare, meter or insurance information,” it said.

Free medical supplies — particularly for diabetes — are common bait in scam phone calls. In the most common variation, which has recently prompted warnings by officials in several states, phoning fraudsters claim to be Medicare employees.

In these long-established “medicons,” which historically increase during summer months, the goal is usually to get your Medicare number — which is the same as your Social Security number — and sometimes the numbers of your bank and credit card accounts as well.

Or the goal may be medical identity theft, in which someone gets free medical treatment in your name.

So if you get a call like this one, provide nothing — not even a “yes” to “Is this Mr. or Mrs. Your Name?” Don’t give these people anything.

For bona fide help with free or low-cost supplies, you should place the call yourself — to your doctor or to a condition-centric group such as the American Diabetes Association or American Heart Association. Programs run by these organizations in conjunction with pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers and discount retailers may be restricted by income.
Also of interest: Medicare fraud: Defying justice. >>

Sid Kirchheimer is the author Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.


2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Jennifer McGregor #
    1

    Hi again,

    Just checking in to see if you’ve had a chance to consider my guest article offer.

    I’d still love to write for you on head-to-toe health strategies that can be easily incorporated into everyday life.

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    Jennifer McGregor
    jmcgreg@publichealthlibrary.org
    PublicHealthLibrary.org

  2. theaveeditor #
    2

    Not sure what you mean



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