18,500 Patients PHI Exposed After Multiple Email Accounts Were Compromised

The Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System has started notifying almost 18,500 patients that some of their protected health information has potentially been accessed by an unauthorized individual.

The breach was detected on October 3, 2017 when unauthorized access to the email accounts of several employees was detected. While protected health information was potentially accessed or stolen, the health system’s EHR system was not compromised at any point. All data was confined to the compromised email accounts.

It is currently unclear exactly how access to the email accounts was gained. Typically, breaches such as this involve phishing attacks, where multiple emails are sent to healthcare employees that fool them into disclosing their login credentials. An internal investigation into the breach is ongoing to determine the cause of the attack and how the login credentials of some of its employees were stolen.

Henry Ford Health System has conducted a review of all emails in the accounts and has determined that 18,470 patients have been affected. The emails contained a range of information on patients including names, medical record numbers, dates of birth, provider’s name, department’s name, location, dates of service, medical diagnoses, and the name of health insurers. Each patient impacted by the breach had some or all of the above information exposed. Financial information and Social Security numbers were not present in any of the compromised email accounts.

At this stage in the investigation it is unclear whether the person who accessed the accounts viewed or stole any information, and whether any of the PHI has been used inappropriately.

A spokesperson for Henry Ford Health System said, “We take very seriously any misuse of patient information, and we are continuing our own internal investigation to determine how this happened and to ensure no other patients are impacted,” and “To reduce future risk of this happening again, we are strengthening our security protections for employees, all of whom will be educated about this measure in the coming weeks.”

Henry Ford Health System will also be reviewing its policies on email retention and the use of two-factor authentication.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.