California Anesthetist Alerts Patients to Improper Disposal of PHI

An anesthetist based in Los Baros, California has notified a number of his patients that some of their protected health information was accidentally disposed of in regular trash containers.

Billing tickets used by the practice of Pratap Kurra, M.D., were discovered in trash containers on August 9, 2016. The matter was brought to the attention of Dr. Kurra who established the documents had been disposed of the previous day.

Dr. Kurra says the discarded documents were collected from the trash containers and PHI was only exposed for a maximum of 24 hours. Dr. Kurra does not believe any billing tickets were removed from the trash container by unauthorized individuals and all discarded documents are understood to have been retrieved.

An investigation was conducted to determine which patients were affected and how the billing tickets came to be discarded. Dr. Kurra ascertained that this was a one-off incident and occurred by accident during his move.

The billing tickets did not contain Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurance details, or financial information, so the risk of fraud or identity theft is low.  However, the billing tickets did contain certain medical information. This was limited to patient names, the type of procedure performed, type of anesthetic used, hospital where the procedure was performed, the date and time of the procedure, and the difficulty of the case.

The exposure of PHI was identified rapidly and patients were notified of the incident within three days of the incident. The incident was also reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights and the California Attorney General’s Office.

Dr. Kurra has spoken to his administrative staff about the incident and has re-enforced training on patient privacy to ensure that similar incidents are prevented from happening in the future.

At this stage it is unclear how many patients have been affected by the incident. Since a press release was issued it would appear that more than 500 individuals were impacted.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.