Oregon man reveals Wisconsin patient privacy breach (update2)

How many times have we seen cases where faxes with patient info are sent to the wrong number, and not once, but repeatedly – despite a recipient’s efforts to alert the sender and get them to correct their records? Sometimes going to the patients affected and the media will get faster results. In my own case, where I was the recipient of misdirected faxes, my first phone call to the sender (a local hospital) was polite but firm about their breach. When it happened again, my second call was that I was going to the media and might publish the patient data with some redaction. That seemed to get results, as I received no more faxes from that hospital.

Cody Holyoke reports that a man in Wisconsin who kept receiving misdirected faxes with patient info finally started contacting patients and the media to get the situation addressed.

About a year ago, Butler tells me he received one transmission that caught his attention: sensitive paperwork that appeared to be coming from a (262) number.

The number is registered to Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls.

“It was a list of patient’s names, […] dates of birth, patient IDs, the dates they got admitted to the hospital and whether or not they were still in the hospital,” Butler explained.

Butler claims he called the hospital a half dozen times over the past year and told them to stop.

The faxes, however, kept coming.

This week, another one arrived. Fed up, Butler called a patient listed on the document.

“She took my name and number, said she was very thankful that I called her, and she said she was going to talk to the hospital administration immediately,” Butler said.

Back in Wisconsin, we pressed the hospital for information. TODAY’S TMJ4 even gave them extra time to figure out where these faxes were coming from.

A spokeswoman for Froedtert Health, the company that runs Community Memorial Hospital, tells us their investigation revealed United Healthcare, an insurance provider, is behind the breach.

United Healthcare denied our request for an on-camera interview.

Kevin Shermach, the company’s director of public relations, sent us a statement:

“We were alerted by Froedtert Health about this issue earlier today, and we are working closely with them to investigate and determine the facts. We take very seriously the privacy and personal information of our members.”

Read more on TMJ4.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office has taken action against entities that keep misdirecting faxes. Will our HHS also do the equivalent of undertakings in such situations? How many times does a faxing error have to be pointed out before it’s properly investigated and remedied? I don’t know whether the error is the hospital’s or the insurer’s in this case, but it doesn’t matter if Mr. Butler called them over the past year to alert them and nothing was done to remedy the problem before now. It seems someone just didn’t take this seriously enough until the media got involved.

Update:  There is some conflicting reporting on this breach as to which hospital(s) was/were involved and whether the error was United Healthcare’s or not. See this more recent coverage from another news station.

Update 2: There were at least two hospitals involved, including Roper in South Carolina.

About the author: Dissent