Health System Praises EHR Use After Fire at Paper Record Warehouse

February 3, 2015 in News

A health system spokesperson touted the use of electronic health records to store duplicate copies of patients’ medical files after a seven-alarm fire at a document warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., this weekend sent charred papers from several medical institutions blowing through the streets, EHR Intelligence reports (Bresnick, EHR Intelligence, 2/2).

Fire Details

The CitiStorage warehouse — located on the East River — was stacked floor to ceiling with archived records, including those from the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and members of the Greater New York Hospital Association (AP/CBS New York, 2/1). 

The blaze — the first seven-alarm fire in New York City since 2012 — required more than 60 units and 275 firefighters to contain.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said no one was hurt in the fire, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation. Authorities have noted that the building was regularly inspected by fire authorities.

Ian Michaels, a spokesperson for HHC, said, “Fortunately, as an early adopter of electronic medical record systems, HHC keeps vital patient records in electronic form and we do not anticipate this will affect our patient-care operations” (West/Morales, Wall Street Journal, 2/1).

According to AP/CBS New York, the fire could take at least a week to put out (AP/CBS New York, 2/1).

Privacy Concerns

While electronic data breaches are likely more common than warehouse fires, many observers say they are concerned by the private information that the fire has sent blowing into nearby streets.

According to the New York Times, the scattered papers include:

  • Copies of checks containing bank account numbers;
  • Documents marked “confidential”;
  • Health insurance forms with Social Security numbers; and
  • Medical reports containing patient names.

Spencer Bergen, a nearby resident, said in an interview with the Times, “They’re like treasure maps, but with people’s personal information all over them.” He reported finding half-charred scraps of documents several blocks from the warehouse.

The city has deployed disaster recovery contractors to collect the documents (Yee, New York Times, 2/1).

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