Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Theft of Computers from Texas Hospital Involve 16,000 Patient Records

IHealth Beat e-newsletter today is reporting an incident involving a stolen computer involving a Houston, TX area hospital in which 16,000 patient records might be compromised.

This type of incident shows the vulnurability of laptop computers, hand held devices and other mobile technology. It is not clear from the article that these were laptops -- in fact they might have been desktop systems since they were at a third party vendor's location as a part of a coversion process from paper to electronic health records.

The article citing an article in the April 26, 2005, Houston Chronicle states: Christus St. Joseph Hospital in Houston is informing 16,000 patients that their medical records and Social Security numbers may have been on a computer that was stolen in January, the Houston Chronicle reports. The computer was one of two machines stolen from Gateway File Systems, which was digitizing paper medical records for the hospital.

Hospital officials say evidence shows that the thieves were interested in the computers and not the data on them and that there is no indication that anyone's identity has been compromised, the Chronicle reports. The medical data on the computer were password-protected and encrypted. The hospital has terminated its contract with Gateway File Systems, said India Chumney Hancock, a hospital spokesperson.

According to the hospital's letter to patients, the only records that may have been affected are for patients who sought treatment in the emergency department in 2004; patients who sought outpatient services in radiology, sports medicine and rehabilitation from August through September 2003 and April through June 2004; and patient charts from 2001.

Hancock said the data on the stolen computer represents less than 1% of all the hospital's patient records, the Chronicle reports. The second stolen machine did not contain health records, said Gateway File Systems CEO Brian Harper (Crowe, Houston Chronicle, 4/26).

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