The abandoned records of an Acton, Massachusetts physician who abruptly closed his office have been saved from the shredder by the last-minute intervention of a local hospital, highlighting a potential gap in state law that may leave patients unprotected in similar situations. 

According to the Boston Globe, Dr. Ronald Moody’s landlord evicted him from his office in September for nonpayment of rent and hired a moving and storage company to clean out its contents, including hundreds of patient charts. The moving and storage company kept the records for six months as required by law, then asked the state medical board to take custody of them after failing to find Dr. Moody. The board responded that it had no authority or budget to move, store or distribute the records, and neither the board nor the moving and storage company was able to take on the burden of locating and contacting the patients. Fortunately, a local hospital stepped in days before the records were scheduled to be destroyed. Concord’s Emerson Hospital, after consultation with the medical board, agreed to seek a court order to take possession of the records.

This incident reveals a flaw in the typical state regulatory approach to medicine and medical records. The medical board had been seeking sanctions against Dr. Moody for continuing to practice after his license had expired in 2007. Dr. Moody was required to maintain records as a condition of his license, but once he let it lapse, there was little the board could do. Like many states, Massachusetts had no statutory provisions for handling abandoned medical records.

In Pennsylvania, a similar situation occurred when a chain of imaging centers, MAIN Medical, suddenly closed in 2005. The state Attorney General’s office took over responsibility for storing the films and records and releasing them to patients.

As economic distress continues to affect healthcare providers, it is likely that this situation may play out again in other states.