When Don Adams asked Mid Coast Hospital for a detailed invoice of his recent treatment, he got a big surprise.
It wasn’t an overcharge or a missing reimbursement from the insurance company. It was someone else’s records.
Adams, a diabetic, said he never received a bill from the hospital for services rendered more than a year ago. He told The Times Record he called numerous times over the year to inquire, every time being assured that the information was in the mail.
Toward the end of September, he finally got a detailed invoice, and he started going through it with a fine-toothed comb. He began to see procedures he’d never had. Then he saw the name of the patient, and it wasn’t him.
Somehow, the records of a Newcastle woman had gotten mixed into his own records.
The records are quite detailed, including the patient’s name, date of birth, marital status and Social Security number — nearly everything one would need to steal an identity.
“The woman (at Mid Coast) I spoke to didn’t consider it a big deal,” Adams said. “She said, ‘Everybody makes mistakes.’”
“That was just irresponsible,” he said. “I wasn’t going to use the information. But the woman I talked to had the attitude that it was no big deal. ‘I hope that you don’t use it,’ she said.”
The hospital blamed human error — not a computer glitch — for the mistake, and disputed some of Adams’ claims, including the receipt of a Social Security number.
Steven Trockman, Mid Coast Hospital spokesman, said the organization was “sorry that this happened, and glad that this individual brought the matter to our attention.”
“The process for billing patients is automated and computer generated,” Trockman said in a statement. “Over 115,000 bills are sent annually and mistakes, such as the one described, are rare. … We take these situations very seriously and appropriate action is taken with our vendor who sends the bills.”
Of the inclusion of a Social Security number, as alleged by Adams, Trockman said: “There is never a Social Security number on any bill sent by Mid Coast Hospital. There is also no medical record information. This is completely secure.”
“We are confident that appropriate action was taken by our employees,” he said, adding that — because of health privacy regulations — he couldn’t confirm Adams was a patient at Mid Coast.
Barbara McCue, director of quality and patient safety at Mid Coast, said this was a case of old-fashioned human error.
“This wasn’t a computer glitch,” she said. “This was a case of a human being putting the wrong information in an envelope and sending it.”
Because the majority of the billing procedures at Mid Coast are completely automated, this error happens rarely, she said.
McCue said she spoke to Adams after The Times Record alerted the hospital to the mistake.
“We will do whatever we have to do to protect both patients,” she said. She said that might include a financial monitoring program to be sure that neither of the patients involved is adversely affected by the error.
There were 12.6 million victims of financial identity theft in the United States in 2012, costing the economy more than $1.5 billion. Medical identity theft costs the economy even more, according to a study last year by Ponemon Institute: $41.3 billion last year, affecting as many as 1.85 million Americans.
For his part, Adams tore up the Newcastle woman’s detailed invoice after showing it to The Times Record last week, but has no idea who may be holding the records the hospital swears it sent out to him over a year ago.
So far, he is seeing no evidence that anyone has used his own identity fraudulently.
“I just hope Parkview doesn’t go out of business,” he said.
In a earlier version of this story, it was reported that the Woolwich man received a detailed patient record. For clarification, it is considered by hospital officials a detailed invoice or itemized bill, not a "detailed patient record."