Patients of the now-closed Women’s Health Consultants OB/GYN practice might want to keep a close eye on their credit and identification records after a significant breach in the security of that information was found to have taken place. It wasn’t a hacking or other all-too-common electronic security failure that put their personally identifying information and medical histories in the hands of anyone passing by. Rather, it was the fact that the practice’s records were disposed of by simply throwing them into a recycling bin.
As a result, patient notes such as “patient has a history of herpes,” and “high risk HPV” were easily accessible to anyone who happened by and decided to take a look; along with the names, addresses, social security numbers, and driver’s license images associated with the notes.
The breach was noticed in August of last year by someone making a routine drop off at a recycling center in Allentown. Once they realized what they were looking at, the person very quickly became a news tipster and sent an anonymous email to The Morning Call. “I just went to Atown recycling center to drop off recycling and noticed several giant garbage bags in the blue office paper dumpsters overflowing with medical records from some OB GYN office in Allentown and Bethlehem,” the person wrote. “Completely unsecured!! And nothing shredded.”
This is, as you can imagine, an egregious violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; also known as HIPAA. HIPAA creates very strict controls for the disposal of patient health records and, in many cases, such records are shredded or burnt before disposal. In no way, shape, or form is there an allowance for simply throwing these records in the trash or recycling and walking away from them. They must be made completely indecipherable.
The Morning Call’s questions over the breach in patient information were ultimately referred to a Dr. Gazi Abdulhay, although Dr. Abdulhay was never reached for comment. He does appear, however, to have had high-level involvement with the practice. The Call reports that his signature was found on annual registration certificates necessary for the practice to operate and is identified as the owner of the practice on a tax lien filed against him and the practice in 2013. Strangely, in response to a 2015 lawsuit, Dr. Abdulhay – despite the presence of his name on various records associated with the practice – denied ever practicing at Women’s Health Consultants or ever being an “agent, servant, and/or employee” of Women’s Health Consultants.
Dr. Gazi Abdulhay currently sits as the chief of gynecologic oncology for the Crozer-Keystone Health System.