HOUSTON – A doctor offers an apology after her medical records were found scattered across a business' property, and state investigators want to know how those records ended up there.
Think about how much information your doctor knows about you. From your address to your Social Security number, and of course, your medical history, it is personal data that most would agree should be kept under lock and key.
But recently, a Local 2 viewer discovered hundreds of discarded medical files scattered across his business property.
"I called you. But who knows what would have happened if I wasn't a law-abiding citizen," said Keith Whitlock, owner of Cy-Fair Self Storage.
The documents, hundreds of crumpled, but completely legible, pieces of paper, were brimming with enough information to make it easy for most identity thieves.
Whitlock also noticed most of the paperwork seemed to list the same doctor, Myrtle Oates.
"I don't have anybody that comes back with that name that has ever rented here," Whitlock said.
Local 2 investigator Joel Eisenbaum followed the paper trail, eventually tracking down Oates, an obstetrician/gynecologist, to an office in Bellaire.
She agreed to talk to Eisenbaum at her attorney's office.
"Well, Joel, I really can't offer an explanation," Oates said.
Oates acknowledged the paperwork seemed to be from files from her previous practice, an office she closed called "Southwest Houston Women's Center," but she could not explain how the hundreds of patient records came to be on Whitlock's property.
Oates did show KPRC Local 2 another self-storage facility where she houses thousands of medical records, as she is required to do by the Texas Medical Board.
"I take responsibility, and that's why I, and I alone, have to say 'I'm sorry,'" Oates said.
KPRC Local 2 also contacted two of Oates' former patients, women found through the information on their medical records.
"Are you kidding me? I can't believe it. They know more about me than I know about me," Virginia Odibo said.
Another former patient, Marrian Chaisson, said she will not let the matter rest with an apology.
"I am going to contact my attorney," she said.
Out of obligation, Eisenbaum, contacted the Texas Attorney General's Office. A state investigator picked up the records, contained in two large garbage bags, from Whitlock's business.
"The Texas Attorney General's Office takes a breach like this very seriously. Improperly disposing of medical records is against the law," said Lauren Bean, deputy communications director.
In fact, the records do not appear as if they should have been disposed of at all. State law requires doctors maintain such information for seven years from the last visit. Most of these records appeared to be five to six years old. After seven years, doctors can get rid of the records, but only by completely destroying them.
Doctors are rarely criminally prosecuted for breaking the rules. More often, doctors face fines of up to several thousand dollars, and, in some cases, suspension of their medical licenses.