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This week, Associated Dermatology & Skin Cancer Clinic of Helena, MT, has disclosed a breach of physical protected health information (PHI) affecting 1,254 patients.
A journal maintained by an employee of Associate Dermatology was stolen from her vehicle on May 26, 2018. A thief forcibly gained access to the vehicle and stole the personal journal, which contained information to help the employee with the provision of care to patients.
The types of information recorded in the journal included names and ages of patients, their referring physicians, brief notes on patients’ medical histories, reasons for visits, and visit notes. Patients whose PHI has been obtained by the thief had received medical services through Associated Dermatology between September 1, 2017 and May 24, 2018.
While highly sensitive information – the types that can be used to steal identities – were not stored in the journal, there is potential the information could be misused, although no reports have been received to date to suggest that is the case.
The biggest risk is the use of the information in social engineering or phishing scams that attempt to get patients to disclose further information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and health insurance information. Patients have been warned to be alert to such scams.
The breach has prompted Associated Dermatology to implement further safeguards to ensure all forms of PHI are safeguarded and future incidents of this nature are prevented.
The theft has been reported to law enforcement authorities who are working to locate the journal. The incident will be reported to appropriate authorities, including the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, in due course.