Harwich Senior Troubled After Receiving Stranger’s Medical Records

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Health

HARWICH — A Harwich woman is demanding answers after she was discharged from Cape Cod Hospital and received, with her own medical records, several pages of a stranger’s records.

Shirley Dubois, 86, underwent a battery of tests at the hospital for two days earlier this month related to ongoing medical concerns. When she was ready to go home, a nurse handed her a manila envelope with around a dozen stapled pages containing her test results and parts of her medical history. She didn’t immediately read the papers, but two days later when she looked through them, she was surprised to see information on another patient.

The three pages contained detailed information on another woman’s medical procedures, including treatment she had received for respiratory problems and a tumor in her breast. Dubois was shocked at the discovery, and felt bad for the stranger whose private information she received. It also made her wonder whether her own medical information might have been sent to a stranger.

“That’s what I’m questioning,” she said.

Dubois called Cape Cod Healthcare’s “Helping Hands” service to report the problem, and says the person who answered simply told her to return the papers.

“Yeah, sure,” Dubois said, shaking her head. She said she was reluctant to send the papers back immediately “because I knew there was something fishy about it” and wanted to make sure the lapse was thoroughly investigated.

Cape Cod Healthcare spokeswoman Robin Lord said there are processes in place to make sure that each patient’s paperwork is complete and accurate when they are discharged.

“Nurses and other staff who release patient documents are required to initial each page to ensure accuracy,” she said. “Patient Social Security numbers are on very few patient documents and, when they are, it is the last four digits only.”

The safeguards failed in Dubois’ case because of human error, Lord said.

“A travel nurse (temporarily hired to fill in during particularly busy times) did not follow the guidelines and failed to check each page of the release documentation before release,” she said.

“Any issues around mishandled patient information are reviewed and managed by clinical teams and administrative leadership,” Lord added. “In the near future, when all CCHC systems are electronic, patients will receive discharge documents via their patient portal, reducing the possibility for human error.”

Dubois thumbed through her own medical records from the packet, which included pictures from a rather sensitive medical procedure.

“Oh, dear,” she said. Even if she is assured that her own information was kept safe, “I’m always going to wonder,” she said.