System glitch could keep you from getting your own medical records

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – What happens to your medical records if your doctor unexpectedly dies? You may be surprised.

If a doctor is a sole practitioner or in a small practice, your most private records could end up in the hands of the executor of their estate.

From there, records should be made available to you for a period of up to two years. But guess what? If they are not, there is no authority to help.

Parents of patients of Dr. Russell Bain, a popular pediatrician in Spring Hill, are finding out that the state of Florida doesn’t have any system in place to protect their records in this case.

Dr. Bain passed away in November 2018, and his 5,000 records were sent to his daughter, Cortney Bain.

Ms. Bain is a real estate professional in Pasco County who says she is overwhelmed by the responsibility and is struggling to reunite records with families while maintaining her full-time job.

Ms. Bain said in October that she had returned about half of the 5,000 records and is holding the rest in a storage unit. She said this week that she’s returned about 80 more. Better Call Behnken gave Bain a list of some parents who still need records and she promised to follow up with them.

Meanwhile, Jay Wolfson, a medical ethics expert with USF Health, says the situation with Bain’s practice, Babies & Beyond illustrates what can go wrong with a doctor who doesn’t have a plan in place.

“She on her own,” Wolfson said of Ms. Bain. “The board of medicine is not going to help her. This is an expensive, time consuming and complex thing to have to do.”

State law requires the executor of the estate to make records available to patients for two years, but there’s no penalty if they don’t. After that, records can be destroyed. But again there’s no penalty if they are not destroyed properly, and there is a risk of sensitive information getting in the wrong hands.

Wolfson suggests the officials do more.

“The board of medicine is likely in a position to say all licensed physicians in this state must demonstrate to this board’s satisfaction that they have in place a transition program for their practices,” Wolfson said.

In the meantime, Wolfson recommends doctors be proactive.

“If I’m a small, solo independent practitioner or even a small group, two or three physicians, what happens?” he asks. “What kind of plans have you made?”

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