Two Laptops Containing Information of 729,000 Patients Stolen from California Hospital Group

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The personal health information of around 729,000 patients has been compromised following the theft of two laptops. The password-protected computers were taken from an administration building of AHMC Healthcare Inc., a hospital group in Alhambra, California. According to the Los Angeles Times, the laptops contain data from patients treated at six different AHMC Healthcare hospitals. Surveillance video shows that the theft occurred on October 12, 2013, but hospital officials did not discover the laptops were missing until two days later.

To read the article from the Los Angeles Times, click here.

Laptops Contain Patient Information, But No Evidence Information Has Been Hacked.

According to the hospital group, the laptops contain data including patients’ names, Medicare/insurance identification numbers, diagnosis/procedure codes, and insurance/patient payment records. Some of the files allegedly contain the Social Security numbers of Medicare patients.

So far, there is no evidence the information has been accessed or used, according to the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. Click here to read the article from the CBS affiliate.

However, given that this just occurred a few days ago, it is probably too early to tell, anyway.

Breach Must Be Reported to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hospitals are required, under federal law, to report potential medical data breaches involving more than 500 people to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR is responsible for investigating all allegation of violations of HIPAA Privacy and Security Regulations.

According to the Los Angeles Times, AHMC Healthcare has already asked for an auditing firm to perform a security risk assessment. Hospital administrators are also expediting a policy to encrypt all laptops.

HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule Effective September 23, 2013–Get a Risk Assessment.

The HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule went into effect on September 23, 2013. By now, hospitals, physicians and all covered entities must comply with the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule. The amendments to the rule are available on the HHS OCR website. I previously wrote a blog series about the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule. Click here for part one, click here for part two and here for part three.

Covered entities should be performing HIPAA risk assessments to identify their security risks and implement protections before a data breach occurs. HIPAA has always required covered entities to perform HIPAA risk assessments. Very often, the first question the OCR asks when investigating a possible HIPAA violation is what risk assessment the health care provider has performed.

The objectives of an adequate HIPAA risk analysis are:

1. Identify the scope of the analysis – the analysis should include all the risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, availability and integrity of all electronic health information regardless of its location.
2. Gather data – the covered entity must identify every location where electronic data is stored.
3. Identify and document potential threats and vulnerabilities – the covered entity should consider natural threats, human threats and environmental threats.
4. Assess current security measures – the covered entity must examine and assess the effectiveness of its current measures.
5. Determine the likelihood of threat occurrence – the covered entity should evaluate each potential threat and prioritize its plan to address each threat.
6. Determine the potential impact of threat occurrence – the covered entity should assess the possible outcomes of each identified threat such as unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.
7. Determine the level of risk – the covered entity should categorize each risk and plan its procedures to mitigate any damage cause by each risk.
8. Identify security measures and finalize documentation – the covered entity should thoroughly document all the steps it used in its risk assessment process.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think if this alleged HIPAA violation? Do you have policies and procedures in place to protect your patients’ right to privacy? Have you received a HIPAA risk assessment lately? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Winton, Richard. “Laptop Thefts Compromise 729,000 Hospital Patient Files.” Los Angeles Times. (October 21, 2013). From: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-hospital-theft-20131022,0,1936078.story#axzz2iRg6Rh3Y

Los Angeles CBS. “Laptops Containing Patient Information Stolen from Alhambra Hospital.” Los Angeles CBS. (October 22, 2013). From: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/10/22/laptops-containing-patient-information-stolen-from-alhambra-hospital/

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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