Private UW medical records sold at surplus store

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by ALLEN SCHAUFFLER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 5:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 2 at 6:45 PM

SEATTLE -- It's a minor James Bond moment. I'm in Tully's, waiting for a man I don't know to bring me confidential medical records that should never be floating around where the public could see them.

He's nervous about the whole thing, says he does a lot of business with the UW Surplus Store where he bought a piece of furniture in which he found the records. He doesn't want to be identified or have his face on camera because it might mess up his business relationship. But he's concerned about what he found and thinks somebody should know about it.

He tipped off the KING 5 Investigators and here I am. He makes the drop, in a brown paper bag of course. As he goes out the back door, I slip quietly out the front with a bag-load of personal medical information.

The medical data is mostly X-ray and MRI imaging of spines, apparently in various stages of disarray. In my very cursory check of what's on the 19 DVDs, I don't see any personal information that could be damaging or embarrassing to the patients. Then again, I'm not a doctor and have no idea what the images I'm seeing show about the health of the people involved.

I am finally able to contact two of the patients whose material was handed to me. One says she doesn't really want to talk but her lawyers might be calling. Not a promising start to a news relationship. The other, Vicki Goetz, is stunned to hear I have pictures of the inside of her body. She was easy to find; there was a sticky-note with her home phone number on her DVD.

"This is private. This is my body, my life. I don't think it should be out there for people," said Goetz. We sit in her living room scrolling through images of her back, taken at an Everett clinic before her first back surgery six years ago. She was a patient at the UW Bone and Joint Center where she had two surgeries before she went looking for a different doctor.

What’s actually on the discs, and in the one set of paper medical records found in the stash, doesn't seem all that personal or dangerous. But just the fact that it was lost and then found and then handed over to the KING 5 Investigators makes her wonder how seriously the medical community really takes patient privacy.

UW tells us they have no idea how this happened but they very clearly say it shouldn't have, and offer apologies to all patients involved. A spokesperson says they'll review procedures and see if they can tighten things up.

Meanwhile, Vicki Goetz is glad to have her medical information back.

"This isn’t that serious, but there are things in my medical history I definitely wouldn't want people to know about. UW is a big hospital and they should be accountable for taking care of it right," said Goetz.

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