Cancer Patient: 'My private medical records were compromised'

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by HEATHER GRAF / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on September 14, 2013 at 1:21 PM

A Tacoma healthcare facility that's supposed to help women battling breast cancer is now accused of compromising their confidential medical records, and as a result, their safety.

The Carol Milgard Breast Center opened in 2009.  According to its website, the facility's mission is to provide sustainable breast health services to women, in an environment that fosters confidence, comfort, peace, and dignity.

Former patient Martha Tsuru and her attorneys say the staff has failed at that mission.

"It's a very big deal," said Martha.  "I'm very frustrated and disappointed and saddened by what's happened."

A formal complaint recently filed with the State Department of Health alleges a massive medical record keeping mistake. Tsuru's attorneys say they filed it after learning that Martha's medical records from the Carol Milgard Breast Center also contained the records of three other patients, mixed in with hers.

In Tsuru's 900 page record, they say 141 pages belonged to other patients. 

"There's so much potential for a mistake, particularly when you're dealing with a life threatening condition like cancer," said attorney Ann Deutscher.  "It is probably every woman's worst fear."

Tsuru says it's both a privacy issue and a standard of care issue.

"If the doctor is looking at my records thinking it's mine and there's three other people's records in there, how can he make a good judgment?"  she said.

During a deposition of the clinical supervisor of the Carol Milgard Breast Center, Tsuru's attorneys say the clinical supervisor admitted to the error.

When asked if they'd ever had troubles or issues in regards to the electronic records, the clinical supervisor had this response:

"When they did our conversion from Zotec to the RIS, they changed the way they were doing the medical record numbers.  And so it caused a migration issue for when the new system was brought up, sometimes patients' records, especially scanned documents, ended up in the wrong place."

Deutscher says the mistake dates back to September of 2012, and could potentially impact every patient ever treated at the facility.  She also says the staff there has made no attempt to fix the problem.

"We think this is the sort of thing where they should be completely transparent and upfront about it," she said.  "Our goal is to make the records at this facility safe."

A spokesperson for the State Department of Health tells KING 5 an investigation is now being done, to determine what happened.  If the accusations can be proven, the Carol Milgard Breast Center could face repercussions that include everything from fines and restrictions to the suspension of the facility's license.

An investigation like this one can typically take three to six months to complete.

Tsuru says it is worth the wait, if the mistakes can be corrected.  In the meantime, she is encouraging other patients at the Carol Milgard Breast Center to check the integrity of their medical records.

"I think these women need to know to get their records and look through them, and make sure they're accurate," she said.

In response to KING 5's questions and the allegations outlined in the complaint filed with the Department of Health, the Carol Milgard Breast Center issued the following statement:

"Carol Milgard Breast Center takes patient privacy very seriously. We have many safeguards to protect the information patients share with us. Occasionally a piece of information may slip through. When that happens, we assess our processes to identify ways to make improvements. Because of Federal privacy laws, we cannot discuss patient information," said Executive Director Jackie Ostrom. 

Ostrom could not tell KING 5 how many patients' records might have been compromised.

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