DOD examining health records security

Following the theft of computers from an Arizona-based medical records contractor, the Defense Department has formed a task force to evaluate security and is taking steps to make health information systems more secure.

William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, this month spoke about the security and integrity of the military's health records system.

The computer systems stolen from the Phoenix offices of TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a records company that is part of the military's TriCare system, contained the confidential and personal files of more than 500,000 members, all of whom are active duty military, retirees or their families.

Winkenwerder was quick to point out that the system used by TriWest is not part of the DOD's Composite Health Care System II, the computerized medical records system that received the go-ahead for a trial run in November 2002.

"There is no relationship between those two" systems, Winkenwerder said in a statement.

"Trust remains the bedrock of a successful doctor/patient relationship and the expectations that our service members, retirees and their families rightly have," Winkenwerder said. "Electronic sharing of health care information provides great advances in patient safety, in reduced errors in claims processing, and in improved customer service."

As a result of the theft, DOD has formed a task force to evaluate the security at each of its medical contractors, and has ordered them to audit their information security procedures.

Winkenwerder said the worldwide assessment will be conducted at every military treatment facility and contractor location. He also said new health information systems will be introduced in the coming months to bring the Defense medical system in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for the protection of patient information.

"I am confident that the steps we have taken and will take in the coming weeks and months will provide an exceptional level of security and protection of personal and medical information for those served by the military health system," Winkenwerder said.

TriWest has refused all comment related to the theft, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

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