Updated Indiana Law Protects Abandoned Medical Records
What happens after you leave all your personal and financial information in a doctor’s office, and the office closes down? A news story from the summer of 2015, reported that an employee of a pizza parlor in northwest Indiana peered into a dumpster behind the restaurant and found equipment and patient files from a medical testing facility which included lab results as well as photocopies of Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and insurance policy numbers. Another story reported how medical records were found in a city park. There are laws that are designed to protect patients, but it can be scary to have all your information out there without your knowledge.
Medical professionals and facilities are required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to protect the confidentiality of patient records. Recently, stepped-up enforcement of the federal regulation has brought hefty fines for violations by health care providers, but for files that are abandoned, left unsecured and potentially accessible to non-medical personnel, state law is providing the protection.
Indiana already had a statute covering abandoned medical records, but Senate Enrolled Act 549, which sailed through the Statehouse during the 2017 session, updated the law. The new provisions expanded the definition of “abandoned,” added language requiring database owners to safeguard the medical information stored in their systems, and gave the Indiana Attorney General the power to recover the costs of protecting the discarded health records. The Indiana Attorney General’s website also now includes a link that lists the physicians and facilities that abandoned their medical files and provides instructions for how patients can retrieve their information.