HHS publishes online list of patient data breaches

Office for Civil Rights publicizes 64 recent health care data breaches involving 500 or more patients

The Health and Human Services Department has started publishing an online list of more than 60 recent breaches of private patient health care data and intends to share the data for research and investigation.

Under the economic stimulus law, HHS got authority to publish breach incidents that affect 500 or more persons. Covered entities, including physicians, hospitals and other health care providers, are required to report breaches of unsecured protected health information to the department in 60 days.

HHS’ Office for Civil Rights in recent weeks began publicizing on its Web site data breaches that affect more than 500 people, dating from July 2009 to March 2010.

As of today the Web site lists 64 breach incidents. The largest breach is that of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, where theft of hard drives affected data from more than 500,000 patients in October 2009. Most of the incidents involve theft or unauthorized access to laptop computers or other devices, but some involve hacking and scamming.

The office described how it will share information on the breaches in an April 13 Federal Register notice.

The office also intends to disclose the breach information in an annual report to Congress and to appropriate federal agencies for the purpose of technical assistance and training, but only after the office determines that use would not invade privacy.

The office also will share the information to federal agencies and contractors that assist HHS in responding to breach incidents, and to third-party public and privacy organizations that investigate the violations and perform compliance reviews. The office plans to notify the public of the results of those investigations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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