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Possible Violation of HIPAA Laws by Doctors in California

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According to the Orange County Register on November 21, 2008, private medical records were found in the trash next to a medical office in Laguna Hills, California. The documents detailed confidential patient information and Social Security numbers. Officials stated that this could be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which governs patients' privacy laws and addresses procedures for discarding medical records.

Dr. Ralph Cummings was called by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to retrieve the medical records that were associated with his medical practice. Cummings was one of several doctors that shared offices on the second floor of the medical building. The doctor stated that he was aware of the guidelines for proper disposal of medical records and that his office does not dump records in the trash. The question remains as to how the medical records for his practice were found in the trash.

There are a few cases in point that Dr. Cummings and his associates need to be aware of:

The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human services closed 2,110 complaints regarding possible HIPAA violations in California in the year 2007.

477 of those cases were investigated and 273 required corrective action.

Obtaining or disclosing identifiable personal information can result in fines of $50,000, $100,000, or $250,000 and possible imprisonment.

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