Medical group fined $140K for tossing files at public dump

Another case of mishandled files

This week, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts fined a medical billing company and associates $140,000 as part of a settlement for improperly disposing of medical records at a public dump.

According to a statement from Attorney General Martha Coakley's office, a Marblehead medical billing practice--Goldthwait Associates--agreed to pay the fine to settle the complaint.

According to a blog post on the Boston Globe White Coat Notes blog, the records came to light when a photographer for the newspaper noticed them at a Georgetown, Mass. transfer station while dumping his own trash, and found records for 67,000 people, including personal information and test results. 

These types of records are required to be disposed of in such a way to destroy any personally identifying information, and it's clear this company didn't take any care whatsoever, as the records were lying in plain site full of confidential medical data.

In a statement, Coakley stressed the importance of protecting this type of information. "We believe this data breach put thousands of patients at risk, and it is the obligation of all parties involved to ensure that sensitive information is disposed of properly to prevent this from happening again," she said.

The case was resolved when all the parties named in the suit agreed to a consent decree to resolve the allegations. The money will go toward attorneys' fees, civil penalties and a data protection fund.

It's worth noting that the Globe post points out that the breach did not appear to lead to any data loss.

Coakley is going one step further to help prevent these kinds of breaches from happening in the future by offering data privacy training through the Attorney General's office.

This is only the latest case of confidential records being found in very public places. We reported about police data being found in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade confetti at the November. 

For more information:
- see the Mass. Attorney General's Office press release

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