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Study: Paper health records present a privacy risk to patients

Summary

Lax or inconsistent disposal policies can put out sensitive material in EHR changeovers

Newswire: March 20, 2018.

Dateline: Boston.

Paper records pose a privacy risk to patients, according to another study of doctors’ record management practices.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at how five teaching hospitals in Toronto handled the transition from paper records management to electronic health records, and that lax destruction of paper records meant many went to a recycling facility instead of secure destruction.

The study found clinical notes, summaries and medical reports among personally identifiable documents recovered from doctor’s offices and inpatient wards. Billing forms, labels and other patient identifiers were also found, too.

More than 1,800 documents containing what the study terms medium- or high-sensitivity personal health information were recovered by the researchers. Physician offices contributed the most to this, responsible for more than 1,200 of those documents.

The study monitored hospitals that had recycling bins for paper disposal and secure shredding receptacles for confidential paper records. Recycled material was collected at least three times per week at each hospital over the study, conducted between 2014 and 2016 at each hospital for a month.

The study authors conclude that “migration to (electronic health records management) may have heightened risks of other privacy breaches.” Their rationale: When paper documents are made redundant by EHR, “the potential for improper disposal of printed patient information may paradoxically increase.”

The researchers suggest that hospitals simply remove any non-confidential disposal options for paper records (effectively requiring all paper to be destroyed. “Minimizing the printing of documents containing [personal health information] would be a complementary approach,” they added.

The study was authored by Dr. Joshua Kapil Ramjist, and colleagues from the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto in Ontario.

Read the full story here.

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