Shelby Knowles for KHN
Earlier this 12 months, Grace Elizabeth Elliott obtained a mysterious hospital invoice for medical care she had by no means acquired.
She quickly found how far a clerical error can attain — even throughout a continent — and the way irritating it may be to repair.
Throughout a university break in 2013, Elliott, then 22, started to really feel faint and feverish whereas visiting her mother and father in Venice, Fla., which is about an hour south of Tampa. Her mom, a nurse, drove her to a facility that locals knew merely as Venice Hospital.
Within the emergency division, Elliott was recognized with a kidney an infection and held in a single day earlier than being discharged with a prescription for antibiotics, a typical remedy for the sickness.
“My hospital invoice was about $100, which I bear in mind as a result of that was some huge cash for me as an undergrad,” mentioned Elliott, now 31.
She recovered and finally moved to California to show preschool. Venice Regional Medical Middle was purchased by Group Well being Methods, based mostly in Franklin, Tenn., in 2014 and finally renamed ShorePoint Well being Venice.
The kidney an infection and in a single day keep within the E.R. would have been little greater than a reminiscence for Elliott.
Then one other invoice got here.
The Sufferers: Grace E. Elliott, 31, a preschool instructor dwelling together with her husband in San Francisco, and Grace A. Elliott, 81, a retiree in Venice, Fla.
Medical Providers: For Grace E., an emergency division go to and in a single day keep, plus antibiotics to deal with a kidney an infection in 2013. For Grace A., a shoulder alternative and rehabilitation companies in 2021.
Service Supplier: Venice Regional Medical Middle, later renamed ShorePoint Well being Venice.
Complete Invoice: $1,170, the affected person’s duty for shoulder alternative companies, after changes and funds of $13,210.21 by a well being plan with no connection to Grace E. Elliott. The preliminary prices have been $123,854.14.
What Provides: It is a case of mistaken id, a billing thriller that began at a hospital registration desk and did not finish till months after the file had been handed over to a collections company.
Early this 12 months, Grace E. Elliott’s mom opened a invoice from ShorePoint Well being Venice that was addressed to her daughter and sought greater than $1,000 for latest hospital companies, Elliott mentioned. She “instantly knew one thing was flawed.”
Months of sleuthing finally revealed that the invoice was meant for Grace Ann Elliott, a a lot older girl who underwent a shoulder alternative process and rehabilitation companies on the Venice hospital final 12 months.
Consultants mentioned that accessing the flawed affected person’s file due to a reputation mix-up is a typical error — however one for which safeguards, like checking a affected person’s picture identification, normally exist.
The hospital had handled at the very least two Grace Elliotts. When Grace A. Elliott confirmed up for her shoulder alternative, a hospital worker had pulled up Grace E. Elliott’s account by mistake.
“That is the sort of factor that may undoubtedly occur,” mentioned Shannon Hartsfield, a Florida legal professional who makes a speciality of well being care privateness violations. (Hartsfield doesn’t signify anybody concerned on this case.) “Every kind of human errors occur. A employee can pull up the names, click on the flawed button, after which not test [the current patient’s] date of delivery to verify.”
It was a seemingly apparent error: The youthful Elliott was billed for a process she did not have by a hospital she had not visited in years. However it took her almost a 12 months of hours-long cellphone calls to undo the harm.
At first, anxious that she had been the sufferer of id theft, Grace E. Elliott contacted ShorePoint Well being Venice and was bounced from one division to a different. At one level, a billing worker disclosed to Elliott the birthdate the hospital had on file for the affected person who had the shoulder alternative — it was not hers. Elliott then despatched the hospital a duplicate of her ID.
It took weeks for an administrator at ShorePoint’s company workplace in Florida to confess the hospital’s error and promise to appropriate it.
In August, although, Grace E. Elliott acquired a discover that the company workplace had offered the debt to a collections company referred to as Medical Information Methods. Though the hospital had acknowledged its error, the company was coming after Grace E. Elliott for the stability due for Grace A. Elliott’s shoulder surgical procedure.
“I assumed, ‘Nicely, I will simply work with them straight,'” Grace E. Elliott mentioned.
Her enchantment was denied. Medical Information Methods mentioned in its denial letter that it had contacted the hospital and confirmed the title and deal with on file. The company additionally included a duplicate of Grace A. Elliott’s expired driver license to Grace E. — together with a number of pages of the older girl’s medical info — in help of its conclusion.
“A group company, as a enterprise affiliate of a hospital, has an obligation to make sure that the flawed affected person’s info is just not shared,” Hartsfield mentioned.
In an e-mail to KHN, Cheryl Spanier, a vice chairman of the collections company wrote that “MDS follows all state and federal guidelines and laws.” Spanier declined to touch upon Elliott’s case, saying she wanted the written consent of each the well being system and the affected person to take action.
Elliott’s second enchantment was additionally denied. She was instructed to contact the hospital to clear up the difficulty. However as a result of the well being system had lengthy since offered the debt, Elliott mentioned, she obtained no traction in making an attempt to get ShorePoint Well being Venice to assist her. The hospital closed in September.
Decision: In mid-November, shortly after a reporter contacted ShorePoint Well being, which operates different hospitals and amenities in Florida, Grace E. Elliott acquired a name from Stanley Padfield, the Venice hospital’s outgoing privateness officer and director of well being info administration. “He mentioned, ‘It is taken care of,’ ” Elliott mentioned, including that she was relieved however skeptical. “I’ve heard that again and again.”
Elliott mentioned Padfield instructed her that she had turn into listed as Grace A. Elliott’s guarantor, that means she was legally accountable for the debt of a lady she had by no means met.
Elliott quickly acquired a letter from Padfield stating that ShorePoint Well being had eliminated her info from Grace A. Elliott’s account and confirmed that she had not been reported to any credit score companies. The letter mentioned her info had been faraway from the gathering company’s database and acknowledged that the hospital’s repair initially “was not appropriately communicated” to collections.
Padfield mentioned the error began with a “registration clerk,” who he mentioned had “acquired extra privateness training because of this incident.”
Devyn Brazelton, advertising coordinator for ShorePoint Well being, instructed KHN the hospital believes the error was “an remoted incident.”
Utilizing the date of delivery supplied by a hospital employee, Elliott was in a position to contact Grace A. Elliott and clarify the mix-up.
“I am just a little upset proper now,” Grace A. Elliott instructed KHN on the day she discovered in regards to the billing error and disclosure of her medical info.
The Takeaway: Grace E. Elliott mentioned that when she requested Padfield, the Venice hospital’s outgoing privateness officer, whether or not she might have completed one thing to battle such an apparent case of mistaken id, he replied, “In all probability not.”
This, consultants mentioned, is the darkish secret of id points: As soon as a mistake has been entered right into a database, it may be remarkably tough to repair. And such incorrect info can dwell for generations.
For sufferers, which means it is essential to periodically evaluate the knowledge in your affected person portal — the net medical profile many suppliers use to handle issues like scheduling appointments, organizing medical information, and answering affected person questions.
One draw back of digital medical information is that errors unfold simply and repeat often. It is very important problem and proper errors in medical information early and forcefully, with each little bit of documentation out there. That’s true whether or not the issue is an incorrect title, a medicine now not (or by no means) taken, or an inaccurate prognosis.
The method of amending a report could be “very concerned,” Hartsfield mentioned. “However with sufferers ready now to see increasingly more of their medical information, they’ll need these amendments, and well being techniques and their associated entities must get ready for that.”
Grace A. Elliott instructed KHN that she had acquired a name from ShorePoint Well being in the previous couple of months indicating that she owed cash for her shoulder alternative.
She requested for a duplicate of the invoice, she instructed KHN. Months after she requested, it nonetheless hadn’t arrived.