Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Help Me Howard: Medical Records
If you go to a doctor or medical facility, you expect certain things, like being able to get your records if you need them, but former patients of one women's clinic are outraged after it closed up shop with their medical files, and now they can't get them. It's tonight's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- The sign on the door says it all: "Attention, Strax Institute has vacated the premises."
Sharon Wapner: "I'm very upset, very upset."
It's not the closing of this Strax clinic in Lauderhill that has Sharon Wapner so worried, it's what they're closing with and leaving all their former patients without.
Sharon Wapner: "It is just unfair that these people aren't giving us our records. I don't care if they went out of business, but we are entitled to our records."
Sharon works in a doctor's office and knows how important a patient's records are. Strax Institute has nearly 20 years of Sharon's mammograms on file. Without them, her doctor's hands are tied.
Sharon Wapner: "If they don't have records to look back on, people will go probably for unnecessary biopsies and other views and extra testing that would not be necessary if they had the records to look back at."
Strax Institute is a women's clinic that claimed their "mission is to save lives through the early detection of breast cancer."
But now, if a woman had a mammogram that shows she might have breast cancer, it's being kept from her.
Sharon Wapner: "They are dealing with people's lives. This is life and death for some people, and it seems like they don't care."
The sign on the door seems to indicate they do care, giving a phone number and email addresses to pick up your medical records, but Sharon says the information is useless.
Sharon Wapner: "Whatever numbers they give us are busy. Whatever addresses they give us do not exist, and we are at a standstill. We can't get our records."
When we went over to the Strax office we found former patients are going through the same thing. With one man showing up over and over to get his wife's mammogram results, so her doctor can make sure she is OK.
Carlos Cepeda: "Basically like three times already, and we had an appointment with the doctor on Monday, so this is what happened. It's incredible."
But does Strax or your doctor's office have to turn your medical records over to you or do your records belong to them? Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "The records belong to the health care provider, but you have a right to the originals or a copy of them if you request them. The only stipulation, you have to pay for the cost of duplication. And, by the way, your doctor or clinic cannot throw your records away. By federal law they must maintain them."
We tried to get Strax to turn over Sharon's records, we failed.
We then turned to the state agency that licenses clinics. The Agency for Health Care Administration told us they now have opened two separate investigations into Strax's handling or mishandling of the patient's records.
In the meantime, we discovered the 10,000 records from Strax were turned over to a private company called Recall. They told us they were trying to straighten out the mess to "address the needs of individuals who have been negatively impacted by this company's negligence." They told us if you need your records from Strax to call 305-884-1559, and Howard says this might be a good time to take a few steps to protect your medical records.
Howard Finkelstein: "What we learned here is that it's illegal to keep your medical records from you, but getting a government agency to enforce the law and get you your records from a closed clinic is very difficult. To protect yourself, get a copy of your medical records now, in case something like this comes up."
Sharon has still not gotten her mammograms. Apparently they are lost, and Sharon is definitely upset at Strax.
Sharon Wapner: "I can't imagine what they are thinking. They are supposedly a reputable company in business for a long time, and they just flew the coup with our lives."
We spoke to the Florida Attorney General's Office. They are now looking into this. They can impose fines on Strax if they violated the law. As for the 280 cartons of records left by Strax, Recall told us they are having to go through the boxes one by one, so if you need your records, be patient.
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