Healthcare News & Insights

Data breach lesson: Protect paper records, too

These days, many hospitals are worried about the security of electronic health records and other sensitive digital information. But paper documents are still creating plenty of security risks. 

FileStealThat was the lesson learned recently by Eastside Medical Center in Snellville, GA, after thousands of pages of medical records nearly fell into the wrong hands.

The documents were found scattered alongside a busy street, according to WBSTV. Witnesses described what looked like a blizzard of white paper and said pages contained information including patient names, addresses, phone numbers, types of surgery they had and prescription information.

Apparently, a work crew of prison inmates came across the papers while doing a regular and collected the documents and handed them over to police. So far, there’s no sign anything illegal was done with the information.

Keys for physical security

Police have classified the incident as an accident, though no one seems to be sure what exactly happened. Hospital officials said the documents were being transported by a third-party vendor so they could be shredded, but they don’t know how the paper ended up on the side of the road.

While this incident may have been accident that Eastside couldn’t have foreseen or avoided, there’s a big lesson for hospitals: Security breaches can involve paper records as well as digital information.

Some steps hospitals should take to strengthen physical security in their organizations:

  • Always shred sensitive documents when they’re no longer needed — and make sure a trusted service provider is used if information is being taken off the premises.
  • Make sure file cabinets, drawers and storage rooms are locked and the only authorized employees are given keys.
  • Train employees to be careful with patient charts and documents containing sensitive information.

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