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St. Vincent Breast Center Breaches HIPAA with 63K-Patient Mailing

The St. Vincent Breast Center, an Indianapolis-based healthcare provider of diagnostic services for women, has reported that a clerical error has resulted in 63,325 patients receiving a mailing containing incorrect information, including the names, addresses and appointment times of other patients.

The letters were sent to advise patients of the Indianapolis Breast Center P.C. and Solis Women’s Health Breast Imaging Specialists of Indiana P.C of previously scheduled appointments and to welcome them to the practice.

The letters were dispatched by the treatment center on May 5, 2014, with the problem coming to light approximately ten days later when patients started to complain that they had received the data of other patients.

A breach notice was issued to all affected individuals and the same notice was provided to the media, as required by HIPAA Rules and Regulations. The letter states that the data that was disclosed, which did include some Protected Health Information, was limited in nature and did not involve Social Security numbers, medical information, diagnoses or other sensitive details about patients.

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Since some of the data is believed to be out of date, St. Vincent Breast Center has been unable to contact all individuals affected by the breach, and in such cases, the media notice is provided in lieu of the individual breach notification letters.

St. Vincent has stated that it will also be destroying any letters that are returned as being undeliverable. According to the notice, the center is also taking steps to ensure that similar incidents cannot occur in the future, including amending internal procedures as well as the policies that apply to its Business Associates.

Under HIPAA Rules, credit monitoring services must be provided to patients who have been affected by data breaches, although the covered entity is able to decide when this is appropriate. In this instance, since the data exposed is unlikely to result in patients suffering damages or loss, it was deemed to be unnecessary to provide them with credit monitoring services. Instead, the center has told patients what they can do in order to monitor their credit for signs of fraud.

All affected individuals have been advised to take advantage of the free credit reports offered by Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. While the center is not providing a year of free credit monitoring services, patients are able to obtain a credit report free of charge from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. Each is required by law to provide one annual credit report to anyone who requests it without charge.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.