Medical records sold as scrap paper

Who needs hacking or phishing skills to commit identity theft when paper-based medical records of active patients –including all manner of personally identifiable information — wind up for sale as scrap paper?

Last week, the records of 28 Central Florida Regional Hospital patients wound up being sold for US$20 to a schoolteacher visiting a Salt Lake City surplus store, according to the Associated Press. The hospital, which had sent the records out as part of an audit, and the shipping company — UPS — blamed a mix-up of some undetermined origin. The hospital promised to do better.

I read this story having just returned from a checkup with my physician, who over the 25-plus years of treating my never-ending list of ailments has chronicled every detail about them in a manila folder. He’s no Luddite, but just hasn’t converted. Sit next to his office assistant in the waiting room and you can see a huge horizontal filing cabinet containing hundreds of similar folders.

In other words, the security of my medical records is only as good as the attentiveness of the office assistant and the lock on my doc’s office door. He’s a fabulous doctor, so I accept the risk. And I’d probably forgive and forget should the worst happen.

Central Florida Regional Hospital, however, may not be so lucky.

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“I’m aghast,” said Marcy Lippincott, whose father’s records were among those sold. “I’m wondering who to sue. It’s a complete invasion of privacy. It’s appalling to think your records can be out there somewhere like that.”

Everyone should be aghast, of course, and everyone whose privacy is compromised so recklessly should have a child who grows up to be an attorney, such as is this case with Lippincott and her dad.

Something tells me Ms. Lippincott will figure out who to sue on behalf of Mr. Lippincott.

Another underwater cable cut

There’s been another underwater cable cut — in Maine, not the Middle East — and it looks conspiracy theorists will be unable to blame terrorists or U.S. military preparations for invading Iran.

This time they’ll have to blame the price of copper. (Although vandalism remains an option as the police continue their investigation — the area where this happened has seen 44 reports of copper theft over the past two years.)

From The Times Record of Brunswick, Maine: “Phone service was restored to some 300 Verizon customers Tuesday afternoon, about 36 hours after an underwater cable was damaged between Bailey Island and Stover’s Cove in South Harpswell … ‘Based upon the information we have so far, I would say that it was intentional, but the intent would be the question — whether to interrupt phone service or to steal the copper wire,’ said Cumberland County Detective Sgt. Jim Estabrook.”

While the cable in question is mostly buried under the sea floor, a portion is exposed at low tide.

As the price of copper continues to escalate, news headlines lately have been filled with ever more of these stories, including a whopper from Durham, N.C., that saw thieves cart off some 5,000 pounds of copper wiring … directly off the telephone poles.

Personally, I caught a glimpse of the motivation behind this crime wave when a plumber doing work at my house recently asked if I wouldn’t mind letting him dispose of a fist-sized hunk of copper fixture he had yanked from under my sink. While I suspected right off why he wanted the scrap, I asked anyway.

“Hey, at the prices we get for this … every little bit is worth taking.”

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