Are your medical records safe?

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

Our medical records are confidential pieces of information that we do not disseminate for everyone to examine and gaze upon. These files are for our personal knowledge and use and for our doctors and specialists to look over in order to diagnose and treat us. Sometimes, these records are requested in the courtroom to serve as evidence when presenting a case.

Along with these records, our social security numbers and dates of birth are access keys to everything, from medical records to bank accounts, and they are holy grails for those on the road to performing identity theft. If we do not keep these bits of information under wraps, all hell can break loose.

This being said, how do we know whether doctors and hospitals are keeping our records safe from unauthorized parties? Is it possible for others besides ourselves and those we authorize to obtain our personal information? Is it possible that our dates of birth and social security numbers may be passed along to just anyone?

The Florida Bar passed rules of civil procedure for service of process that allow law firms to mail their subpoenas for production of non-parties (i.e., medical records subpoenas). These subpoenas request information from a patient’s records and provide the patient’s date of birth and/or social security number. These documents are sent to mailrooms at hospitals and/or doctor’s offices. However, there is no guarantee that this is done in a legit fashion.

Being part of a service of process company, we do not understand how this is lawful. For starters, this is not done according to the Florida Statutes, nor has it been passed into law through Congress.

On a daily basis, we process tons of subpoenas for medical records, easily a couple hundred of these papers every week, as they are always being requested by our clients. So this is a basic gauge as to how much patient information is floating around our office, which, at least, is better than floating around in mailing envelopes all over town. In an effort to maintain patient privacy, we sift through each of these subpoenas and redact every single social security number and date of birth present before scanning them into our internal system.

Certified Civil Process Server Program – Informational Manual by Walter D. Cordle, Jr., Process Server Program Coordinator, is a booklet given to process servers for Miami-Dade County. In it, it states, “Process must be correctly ‘served’ – delivered to the person named in process – in order for the court to acquire jurisdiction, or power, over that person or property. If process is not served correctly, the court may not legally consider the matter and any decision rendered by that court is subject to being voided.” (p. 1)

When the federal HIPAA law was originally written, it was done so with the intention that all subpoenas would be served according to federal and state laws, meaning they would be personally served to doctor’s offices and hospitals. The idea of these documents being mailed to these medical offices was out of the question.

This monster of an issue was created by attorneys of the Florida Bar in an effort to possibly cut costs in their cases, but by taking this route, they are placing individuals’ information in jeopardy. If something were to happen as a result of these subpoenas being mailed, the attorneys and law firms would not be the ones in boiling water – the hospitals and doctor’s offices would be the ones subject to heavy fines imposed by Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. These fines can range from $10,000 to millions of dollars.

So next time you’re at the doctor’s office or in the hospital, be sure to mention you are not willing to have your information released unless it is served by means of a proper subpoena that is served by a process server. You’ll probably surprise the medical staff with this request, but this can save you loads of heartache and headache. ♦

“I wanna be a spy…like you.”


by: Johnelle Rodriguez

As soon as you enter the room, you’re welcomed with colors. They’re everywhere. They’re on the walls, on the floor, at the desks. In front of each computer is a pumpkin decorated with paper mache, each with its own theme. One was Wonder Woman. One was a cat. One was a pig.

On the floor is a large carpeted mat with illustrations of owls sitting on branches with numbered leaves. This mat serves as the congregation area for the girls; it’s where all the action happens.

Some girls wear a greenish blue loose-fitted vest over their collared polo uniform shirts, which are white, navy blue, or red. These vests are accessorized with different patches with images and words. These patches decorate the fronts and backs of these vests. These patches symbolize accomplishments. These vests symbolize their identities. These girls are Girl Scouts.

Today’s meeting represents a milestone—the girls are earning their “Junior Detective” badges. The session opens with everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The girls and their leaders are all holding up three fingers together. They seem to do this often. It’s their unique form of sign language.

After everyone finishes saying the Pledge, they all sit in a half circle at the perimeter of the floor mat. Their either sit with their legs crossed in Indian style, or they have their knees bent and are sitting on the backs of their feet. They are all quiet and are eager and ready to learn. Their attention is now fixed to the front of the classroom.

One of the leaders introduces Bob, and he begins to speak.

Bob is well over six feet tall. But he sits on one of the student chairs, which is clearly too small for his stature, smiling and ready to engage with the girls. He sits at the front of the classroom, in front of the white board, and Nancy sits a few feet to his right, both of them facing the girls.

Bob begins his presentation, telling the girls that he has been a private investigator for 28 years and worked for the Central Intelligence Agency prior to that. A girl raises her hand.

“You guys are like spies?”

“Yes,” Bob says. “Those are like spies. You watch a lot of TV,” he laughs.

He then introduces Nancy and explains how he met her and how they used to live in Africa.

This introduction is followed by Bob asking each of the girls their names and what they want to be when they grow up.

The first girl replies, “When I grow up, I wanna be a spy, like you.”

The next girl says, “I don’t know what I wanna be.”

The following girl wants to be a vet. The next girl wants to be an author.

An outspoken girl exclaims, “When I grow up, I wanna be a chemist. On the weekends, I wanna be a professional mermaid…because I like swimming.”

The next girl wants to be a botanist. The last girl wants to be a chef.

Each girl possesses her own personality. But one thing they all have in common is a high level of intelligence and ambition. They are not bashful, nor are they hesitant to say what’s on their minds.

After this sharing session, Bob explains that as he is talking, he is going to periodically be picking up a few items, one at a time, and holding them in his hands throughout his presentation. He wants the girls to pay attention to these items, as this will exercise their powers of observation.

“All detectives in the history of the world, they all had something in common,” Bob states. “They all had very good powers of observation. They had feelings about things, and they could determine, by looking in a room, if something didn’t look right.”

He continues to speak about how detectives were able to observe people and talk to people and look in their eyes, determining whether they were telling the truth. He also describes other methods of communication, such as using codes to send messages. Codes were used so people could converse without others knowing what they were talking about.

“We’re gonna use invisible ink today,” Bob tells the girls.

They look at one another in awe. The girl who wants to be a spy, like Bob, her jaw drops in astonishment.

Bob tells them how George Washington was the first president to have a network of spies, and these spies would pass messages around. President Washington also used invisible ink.

Morse Code, a series of dots and dashes, has been used around the world for at least a hundred, if not two hundred, years. Once electricity was developed, a signal could be sent through a line and eventually through the air. Bob says he used to use this form of communication when he was overseas.

This conversation prompts the first activity the girls engage in, which requires them to write their names using Morse Code. This takes a few minutes, as they look at a reference sheet to complete the assignment.

When they’re done, Bob goes on to describe that people in the military and others who wanted to communicate back and forth used Morse Code. Even today, Navy ships at sea, when they lose power and communication, send Morse Code by light.

To provide some level of clarification, Bob lets the girls know that spies and detectives are two different persons.

“A spy is a spy,” he says.

A spy does his job without trying to be found out. A detective can come in and look at a scene and tell what went on. He says not to confuse the two, but both the worlds of the spy and of the detective do intersect.

Bob explains that handwriting is a telling tool that can provide the characteristics of a person, and he also speaks about DNA, and how it is used to find evidence, such as blood at a scene.

The next activity requires the girls to use a book to come up with a code to send a secret message to one another. They all use the same book, and the code is generated by writing down the page number, the line number, and the number word over from the left the word is. This is done for each word in the message. This activity takes a little bit longer for them to complete, as it takes a while to exercise their creativity.

Bob cracks their codes, and then it’s time for snacks.

Cheez-It crackers and cookies are on the menu. One of the leaders holds up three fingers, and this indicates that it’s time for the girls to quiet up and divert their attention to her. This intermission session serves as a time to discuss a serious matter—their dues.

In order to delegate some responsibility among the group, the leader suggests a treasurer is needed to take over the duty of organizing and collecting dues. Therefore, the girls had to volunteer themselves for this position. However, two girls wanted to be treasurer. So something had to be done.

“But we don’t know their math abilities,” one girl says.

They discuss among one another and conclude that each of the two girls should have a chance at being treasurer by having their positions carried out in terms. Clever.

After this brief intermission, the girls are presented with one last activity. They are told to write down all the items Bob picked up throughout his presentation, to see if they remembered to use their powers of observation. However, they are given invisible pens to complete this task.

They are all beguiled.

“You can take them home,” Nancy says. Their faces light up.

Age means nothing. Once there is something that piques an interest in someone, there is no stopping that person in exploring it further. In this case, these girls wanted to earn their Junior Detective badges, so everything they learned and all the activities they completed excited them.

It didn’t matter that they are in elementary school and Bob is decades older than them. The communication between them and Bob was both effective and beneficial, and both parties were able to learn from each other.

At the end of the meeting, they all stood in a circle, Bob and Nancy included, and held hands. This is their friendship circle, which happens at the closing of meetings. Although Bob and Nancy are not Girl Scouts, they were welcomed to join.

Unity. Respect. Dedication. Young or old, these traits can be possessed by anyone. As long as one has the desire to learn, the opportunities to gain knowledge are endless. ♦

How to Carry Out Service of Process

The following is an infographic that outlines a general step-by-step process of how we handle service requests at Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc.:

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