San Francisco Chronicle Examines Privacy Issues Related to Outsourced Medical Records
The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday as part of an ongoing series published a special report on the "threat to individual privacy when companies send sensitive" medical and financial records abroad. The article highlights the case of Lubna Baloch, a woman in Pakistan who performed medical transcription for the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center through a subcontractor. Last year, she threatened to post patient medical records on the Internet unless she received additional payments (Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/28). UCSF officials had contracted the work to Transcription Stat in Sausalito, with which the hospital has worked for 20 years. Transcription Stat subcontracted the work to Sonya Newburn, a Florida transcriber with whom the company had worked for about 18 months. Newburn sent the work to Tom Spires, a transcriber in Texas and owner of Tutranscibe, who subcontracted the work to Baloch in Pakistan. Baloch on Oct. 7, 2003, sent an e-mail to UCSF that threatened to post voice files and patient records from the UCSF Parnassus and Mt. Zion campuses on the Internet unless she received payments that Spires allegedly owed her. Baloch attached to the e-mail actual files with dictation from UCSF physicians. Newburn contacted Baloch and agreed to pay her part of the $500 that Baloch said she was owed if Baloch agreed to assure UCSF that the files were safe (California Healthline, 10/23/03). According to the Chronicle, the $20 billion medical transcription industry "subcontracts as much as half its work overseas," and dictated physician notes are "routinely farmed out by hospitals to be transcribed into written form." The practices could lead to "identity theft, fraud and other criminal activities," according to the Chronicle (Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/28). The Chronicle on Sunday also examined whether such practices "could be putting consumer information ... at risk for theft by criminal hackers" (Kirby, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.