Personal info on file — in the dumpster

Helen Palmer Dec 1, 2006

Personal info on file — in the dumpster

Helen Palmer Dec 1, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Try as you might to protect your identity, buying a shredder to dispose of credit card bills and insurance papers, businesses aren’t always as careful with information that doesn’t actually belong to them. A local television station in Indianapolis found the latest example.

From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.

HELEN PALMER: Indianapolis investigative journalist Brian Segall went dumpster diving behind 300 CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid drug stores. In some dozen cities, including Boston, Miami, Phoenix and Chicago he found thousands of patient records.

BRIAN SEGALL: We found pill bottles that have patient labels on them, we found customer information sheets — it has information about their doctors, the medications that they’re taking, their address, their phone number, in many cases their date of birth.

Segall says there was embarrassing information — who’s taking Viagra or psychiatric meds — but also all the details needed for identity theft.

The drug store chains are all shocked — shocked — to learn of these breaches of customer confidentiality. Patient privacy, they all insist, is their highest priority. They all have strict rules in place for their stores. Here’s Rite-Aid’s Jody Cook:

JODY COOK: They’re either to shred confidential information, or send it back to the Rite-Aid warehouse each week where it’s destroyed.

CVS and Walgreens have similar policies. Now they’re all re-educating their staff. Walgreens’ Michael Polzeen:

MICHAEL POLZEEN: We’ve taken this issue very seriously and we’ve responded to it with specific actions to improve our performance.

There are plenty of rules in place here. Strict federal privacy rules have been in effect since 2003. And there’s more.

FRANK PALUMBO: Each state has its own set of laws about confidentiality of medical information.

That’s Frank Palumbo of the University of Maryland’s Center for drugs and public policy. He sees some good in this saga: It will be a great teaching tool, he says, for trainee pharmacists.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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