Patient Data Posted Online in Major Breach of Privacy

New York Times, By Kevin Sack, September 8, 2011
A medical privacy breach at Stanford University’s hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., led to the public posting of medical records for 20,000 emergency room patients, including names and diagnosis codes, on a commercial Web site for nearly a year, the hospital has confirmed. Since discovering the breach last month, the hospital has been investigating how a detailed spreadsheet made its way from one of its vendors, a billing contractor identified as Multi-Specialty Collection Services, to a Web site called “Student of Fortune,” which allows students to solicit paid assistance with their school work. Gary Migdol, a spokesman for Stanford Hospital and Clinics, said the spreadsheet first appeared on the site on Sept. 9, 2010, as an attachment to a question about how to convert the data into a bar graph. Even as government regulators strengthen oversight by requiring public reporting of breaches and imposing heavy fines, experts on medical security said the Stanford incident spotlights the persistent vulnerability posed by legions of outside contractors who gain access to private data. The spreadsheet contained names, diagnosis codes, account numbers, admission and discharge dates, and billing charges for patients seen at Stanford Hospital’s emergency room during a six-month period in 2009, Mr. Migdol said. It did not include Social Security numbers, birthdates, credit-card accounts or other information used to perpetrate identity theft, he said, but the hospital is offering free identity protection services to affected patients. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/us/09breach.html?_r=3&hp

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