The University of Rochester Medical Center has sent letters to a group of former orthopaedic patients, alerting them to the loss of protected health information.
Earlier this week, URMC notified 537 patients that a resident physician misplaced a USB computer flash drive that carried protected health information. The flash drive was used to transport information used to study and continuously improve surgical results. The information was copied from other files and so its loss will not affect follow-up care for any patients.
The flash drive included the patients’ names, gender, age, date of birth, weight, telephone number, medical record number (a number internal to URMC), orthopaedic physician’s name, date of service, diagnosis, diagnostic study, procedure, and complications, if any. No address, social security number or insurance information of any patient was included.
The flash drive is believed to have been lost at a URMC outpatient orthopaedic facility. After an exhaustive but unproductive search, hospital leaders believe that the drive likely was destroyed in the laundry. A search of the laundry service, which works exclusively with hospital/medical facilities, also failed to locate the drive.
Affected patients are being given phone numbers to call for further information. In addition, URMC is re-educating faculty and staff about its policy that requires the use of encrypted drives when transporting protected health information on flash drives. Over the past year, URMC also has developed new rules for the use of smart phones, iPads and other mobile devices to safeguard protected health information. In addition, URMC encourages its physicians and staff to access sensitive patient information using its secure network rather than transfer information on portable devices.
PHIprivacy.net contacted URMC and learned that the drive was the personal property of the resident and had not been issued by URMC. According to a spokesperson, the resident was authorized to download the information, but they did not know he was downloading it onto an unencrypted drive.
Of course, this raises the question of whether others could be downloading information onto devices for unacceptable uses, such as sale to co-conspirators for a tax refund fraud scheme. Hopefully, URMC has security measures in place that prevent downloading (or even display) of certain types of patient information except to those who genuinely have a need to access the data.