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Los Angeles County Department of Health Services has announced that the break-in and theft of computer equipment at the Torrance office of Sutherland Healthcare Solutions has resulted in as many as 168,500 patient records being exposed. The theft has been reported to the authorities and a criminal investigation has commenced, although the missing equipment has not been recovered to date.
The patient information stored on the eight stolen computers is understood to include Social Security numbers and medical and billing information, in addition to patient names and contact information. Some protected medical records are also believed to have been stored on the computers which include past diagnoses.
Sutherland Healthcare Solutions handles billing and collections for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and suffered the break-in on February 5, 2014; however it took two weeks to determine exactly how many patients were affected by the breach. Notification letters were sent out on 27th February to all individuals potentially at risk.
Data privacy and security is treated very seriously in L.A County and safeguards have been put in place in full accordance with HIPAA rules to protect the privacy of patients. According to Assistant Auditor-Controller, Robert Campbell, “I’m not aware of another breach of this significance ever having occurred.”
In response to the security breach, L.A. County has been reviewing policies and procedures to ascertain whether any security vulnerabilities currently exist and to determine whether the data breach could have realistically been prevented.
To reduce the risk of future breaches, further training has been provided to the L.A County workforce on data privacy and security. The data breach has also been reported to the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services which may conduct an investigation to determine if HIPAA regulations have been broken.