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Hi-Yo, Silver! Away Goes Old X-ray Film In Theft

November 9, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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Do we need to lock up all the film to protect against silver thieves? Or just go completely digital?

Maybe. St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland, has posted a notice to patients on its Web site warning that about 5,000 outdated X-ray and other radiological films were stolen in September, apparently for the silver content. The notice explains:

The silver can be easily removed when destroying the film. Similar incidents in the region and throughout the country have been reported, and St. Joseph Medical Center has no reason to believe that the patient information on the paper records was the target of this theft.

That patient information was on the paper jackets and corresponding paper radiology reports. It included the patient’s name, date of birth, and medical record number, the date of service, the referring physician, the type of study, and the radiologist’s interpretation of the film. It did not include addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, financial information, or health insurance information.

The radiology reports had been entered into St. Joseph’s electronic records before the films were designated for destruction, so they’re still available for use in treating patients.

St. Joseph periodically destroys outdated films (these were from 2004, 2005, and 2007). The thief posed as a representative of a radiological film destruction company.

There’s apparently no indication that any of the patient information has been misused. St. Joseph said it didn’t know which patients’ information had been stolen and offered a toll-free number (877-229-3389) for patients to call if they had questions.

The price of silver has spiked recently, to about $35 a troy ounce (about 31 grams). That has made it economically feasible to recycle old film for its silver content—and, apparently, economically worthwhile to steal film. HIPAA-compliant specialty recycling companies offer small payments in exchange for recyclable film. We do mean “small”; one recycler’s Web site offered $35 for 100 pounds of film.

It would seem that thieves would have to undertake a lot of heavy lifting for relatively little return. Perhaps the economy is forcing crooks to work harder, just like everyone else.

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Related seminar: The Business of Radiology

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