Washington D.C.-based Howard University Hospital has sent a notification to nearly 35,000 of its patients on a potential disclosure of their protected health information (PHI) that occurred in late January when a former contractor’s personal laptop containing patient information was stolen. The laptop, stolen from the former contractor’s vehicle, was password protected, according to Howard University Hospital.
The hospital says, thus far, there is no evidence that suggestions the patients’ files have been accessed. The former contractor downloaded the files to a personal laptop, which Howard University says violates its privacy rules. The data varied in the types of information contained, but included some or all of the following: names, addresses, Social Security numbers, identification numbers, medical record numbers, birthdates, admission dates, diagnosis-related information and discharge dates.
“We regret this incident, and we have already put in new procedures to prevent similar violations in the future,” Larry Warren, the hospital’s CEO, said in a statement. The hospital says it has since strengthened its contractor policies to make clear that data and laptop encryption are required. Additionally, all laptops issued to Howard University Health Sciences personnel will now be encrypted.
The hospital says it has sent letters to 34,503 patients affected by the breach and has recommended patients contact their banks and credit card companies immediately to notify them of the potential disclosure of their Social Security number. In addition, the hospital says it will provide those patients whose Social Security numbers were included in the information on the laptop with identity theft alert coverage for a period of one year. Howard University Hospital has also suggested patients check with their banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions for any unusual activity on their accounts.
The contractor, who ceased work for the hospital in December of last year, reported the theft of the laptop to police on Jan. 25. They notified hospital officials of the theft, which launched an investigation and found the former contractor’s laptop contained patient information. The diagnosis-related material primarily consisted of medical codes used by hospitals and other medical institutions and in some cases included written descriptions of a patient's medical procedures or condition.