Air Force Pharmacy In Maryland Left Patient Labels On Reused Prescriptions Posts on a Facebook community page said reused medication at one army base pharmacy still had sensitive patient information.
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Air Force Pharmacy In Maryland Left Patient Labels On Reused Prescriptions

It is a violation of HIPAA regulations to display the personal information of prior patients on reused prescription medication bottles. Todd Maki/Provided by the U.S. Air Force hide caption

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Todd Maki/Provided by the U.S. Air Force

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents the casual disposal of prescription packaging that carries sensitive patient information. But an Air Force pharmacy on Joint Base Andrews in Maryland reissued bottles with the personal health information of previous patients.

Military spouses posted images to a base community Facebook page last week of prescriptions for a variety of re-issued medications from the Air Force pharmacy. The bottles displayed personally identifiable information of prior patients — a practice explicitly prohibited by HIPAA. But this isn't the pharmacy's first violation.

Another Facebook post in the same community earlier this year described a prescription bottle containing three labels. The person that made the post, who spoke to WAMU but declined to be named because of her spouse's position in the Air Force, contacted the pharmacy's patient advocate who assured her the experience was atypical. Other spouses said they've picked up bottles with old labels multiple times before.

"We take patient privacy seriously. Regrettably, our efforts to protect Personally Identifiable Information on restocked medication, not picked up within 14 days from the pharmacy, was ineffective," 11th Wing Commander Col. Andrew Purath said in a statement to WAMU.

"Moving forward, to protect personally identifiable information, our pharmacy will ensure personally identifiable information is removed prior to dispensing restocked medication."

Purath went on to express gratitude for the individuals who identified the issue.

HIPAA privacy rules require that physical safeguards be put in place to protect private patient health information in any form. Prescription bottles with labels containing personal information must be disposed of with opaque bags in a secure area.

"We encourage patients with questions or concerns about their prescriptions to call or visit the pharmacy for resolution," Purath said.

The pharmacy at Joint Base Andrews reuses unclaimed medication after 14 days, which can be a safe practice according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's position on prescription reuse.

"This is done to eliminate waste, especially when a medication is scarce or very expensive. We can't throw away medicine," said Dr. Surinder Singal, a pharmacist on the Maryland Board of Pharmacy.

Singal says to stay HIPAA compliant, pharmacists must completely remove or black out patient health information, and the best thing to do is try to remove the label entirely.

"I tell my own staff never to let anyone's information go to someone else, even if it's an over-the-counter item. That information must always be confidential."

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