1. GA-English
  2. News

Confidential documents in blue bin: Residents in Bad Godesberg find patient files in rubbish bin

Confidential documents in blue bin : Residents in Bad Godesberg find patient files in rubbish bin

Residents have found prescriptions, diagnoses and lists in the blue bin of a shared house, which is also used by a Bad Godesberg doctor. Now the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians is investigating the doctor. He has only one explanation for the incident.

Anyone who visits a doctor not only relies on him or her to know about diagnostics and treatment, but also trusts that his or her patient file will be safely stored and eventually properly disposed of. A Bad Godesberg doctor, however, has abused the trust of his patients. Residents have discovered sensitive documents in a freely accessible blue bin, which is used jointly by the doctor and residents. And this has happened several times.

The documents contain prescriptions and diagnoses, the results of blood tests and lists – together with the names and addresses of the patients. “We first noticed this in the summer of 2019,” describe the residents. Then the incidents in which sensitive data were lying in the bin in a clearly visible manner became more frequent. Since then, they have tried to contact the doctor but without success. Now the residents have informed the North-Rhine Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KVNo) about the case and handed over the documents.

The medical association is also involved

At the KVNo, the case is now “thoroughly processed and a possible violation of the law for contract physicians is being examined”, said spokesman Christopher Schneider. In addition, the responsible medical association will be informed, “since the preservation of medical documentation is basically covered by medical professional law”. If there is a violation, “KVNo can impose a reprimand, fines and even relevant sanctions,” explains Schneider. In addition, further consequences under professional law could be threatened by the Medical Association.

But how are patient files disposed of properly? In all cases, data protection must be guaranteed and patient confidentiality must be maintained, explains Schneider. “We therefore recommend that our members dispose of corresponding documents or electronic data media in sealed containers immediately after the retention periods have expired.” Schneider cannot say how often patient files are illegally disposed of. Because: “We don't have concrete figures”, but says “According to our information, such cases are very rare.” However, a similar incident already occurred in Bad Godesberg in the summer, when a passer-by found patient files in a container.

The NRW data protection officer is responsible

The Bad Godesberg doctor can only explain the incident in this way: His practice had been broken into, the physician said when asked by the GA and the burglars had taken some boxes with them. He suspects that it was them who disposed of the documents. Why were prescriptions, diagnoses and so on found on several occasions? There had been a break-in, but he could not say how often the documents had been thrown away, said the physician, who probably did not report the crime, or at least there no police report was made, according to a spokesperson on enquiry by the GA.

In such cases, the police officers and also the municipal public order office are not actually responsible. If they are informed, however, they will check the situation on the spot and, if necessary, secure documents, and inform the police and the city. Then the case is handed over to the state data protection commissioner (see "A question of data protection" above).

(Original text; Ayla Jacob, translation John Chandler)