Medical Record Mishandling: Risks, Consequences, and Best Practices

Medical Record Mishandling: Risks, Consequences, and Best Practices

In healthcare, healthcare providers know that medical record mishandling brings serious risks. Patient data vulnerabilities can lead to identity theft, unauthorized sharing, and compromised treatments. These issues can have severe consequences for both the provider and its patients.

This article examines the issues of mishandling medical records, highlighting their consequences and what can be done to prevent them. You will also be able to determine which medical records are at risk of mishandling and their possible causes.

Medical Record Mishandling: Risks, Consequences, and Best Practices

What Is Medical Record Mishandling?

Medical record mishandling stems from the improper or neglectful handling of sensitive patient information. It occurs when an individual or healthcare provider fails to implement the necessary security measures and protocols to safeguard health data from data breaches, snooping, improper storage, and misuse.

Mishandled health information can lead to inaccurate diagnoses, repeat tests and treatments, and errors in medication prescriptions. Factors such as oversights, lack of awareness, poorly trained staff, and the unintentional disregard for routine procedures to uphold the safety and accuracy of patient data contribute to the mishandling of medical records.

Types of Medical Records Prone to Mishandling

Certain medical records are more susceptible to mishandling due to their unique nature and the sensitive information they contain. These include:

Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

These digital records encompass a patient’s comprehensive medical history, treatment plans, test results, and personal details. These medical records are prone to mishandling due to their electronic nature and exposure to cyber threats.

Patient communication records

These records hold communications between healthcare providers and patients, which include email exchanges, text messages, online faxes, and other forms of electronic communication. Malicious individuals or hackers may intercept these records in transit or at rest to gain unauthorized access.

Telemedicine records

With the rise of telemedicine, records of remote consultations and treatments are becoming more prevalent. The transmission of medical data over the Internet introduces potential data privacy and security vulnerabilities.

Mental health records

Records related to mental health treatments often contain highly personal and sensitive information. Mishandling such documents could severely affect a patient’s privacy and well-being.

Medical imaging records

X-rays, MRIs, and other medical images are essential for diagnosis and treatment. However, these records contain visual representations of a patient’s body, making them especially private. Mishandling these records could lead to serious breaches of patient confidentiality.

Genetic and DNA data

Advances in genetic testing have led to the generation of sensitive genetic and DNA data. This information carries personal and hereditary insights, raising concerns about unauthorized use or disclosure.

Research and clinical trial data

Patient data collected during medical research and clinical trials needs stringent protection. This includes ensuring participant anonymity and preventing the unauthorized release of experimental results. Medical record mishandling of clinical research data could negatively affect the research outcomes.

Minor patient records

Records of minor patients, including teenagers, require additional privacy considerations. Balancing parental access with the minor’s right to confidentiality can be challenging.

End-of-life and palliative care records

Records about end-of-life decisions and palliative care discussions are profoundly personal and emotional. Mishandling these records could cause significant distress to the patient involved, including their families.

Medical Record Mishandling: Risks, Consequences, and Best Practices

Examples of Medical Record Mishandling

Mishandling of  patient records can occur in different ways. Sometimes, it’s unintentional, like sending forms to the wrong email. However, there are instances where healthcare providers seem to ignore HIPAA rules altogether and casually dispose of old medical records in dumpsters.

Here are some real-world examples of healthcare providers mishandling patient records:

  • Four groups of doctors who study diseases and the previous owners of a company that handles medical bills had to pay $140,000 as a penalty because they didn’t follow the rules. They didn’t dispose of the billing information and medical records of 67,000 patients properly. They left them at a public dump.
  • In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services and a health provider called Parkview Health System in Indiana agreed to pay $800,000 for not following the rules. They left boxes with medical records of about 8,000 patients on the driveway of a doctor’s house. The doctor wasn’t home that day.
  • In 2015, a healthcare provider in Denver named Cornell Pharmacy had to pay $125,000 for not protecting patient records. They left around 1,600 records out in the open on their premises.

These instances highlight the importance of appropriate medical record handling, as mishaps can have severe consequences, including hefty fines.

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Mishandling Medical Records Risks and Consequences

The significant risks of poorly managed medical records might only become apparent once a problem arises. More importantly, it could lead to serious risks and consequences, such as:

Treatment delays

Urgent medical intervention is crucial, especially in life-threatening cases. If an institution struggles to locate a patient’s medication history promptly due to mishandling, it could lead to unnecessary treatment delays, resulting in complications or even fatalities. An organized record system prevents such delays and potentially dire outcomes.

Professional reputation

When healthcare providers struggle to access patient information, it reflects poorly on the organization’s competence and diminishes patient confidence. A well-structured records system serves as a fundamental approach to establishing and maintaining professional norms.

Efficiency loss

Improper recordkeeping can lead to wasted employee time due to duplicated efforts, billing errors, or the inability to fulfill necessary tasks on time. In instances involving physical records, the institution may need to invest in designated storage spaces, necessitating the purchase of additional resources and tools.

Legal implications

Even in the most favorable circumstances, unforeseen complications can arise. In the event of legal action (e.g., class-action lawsuits), an incomplete or disorganized stack of medical records signifies a lack of commitment and incompetence. 

Ensuring Medical Record Protection With HIPAA Compliance

As data breaches continue to wreak havoc in the healthcare industry, ensuring HIPAA compliance through proper medical record management can provide significant protection, helping prevent malicious attacks and other unauthorized access. It also allows for accurate and timely decision-making while minimizing the risks of facing severe legal and monetary repercussions.

Managing patient data and maintaining the security of health service records is essential for providing quality patient care and safeguarding the reputation of healthcare institutions. The importance of robust HIPAA compliance measures cannot be overstated with the increasing reliance on electronic health records and the interconnectedness of health plans.

Kent Cañas

Kent is a content strategist currently specializing in HIPAA-compliant online fax. Her expertise in this field allows her to provide valuable insights to clients seeking a secure and efficient online fax solution.

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