HITECH Public Data Breaches: Majority Caused by Theft

Last month, the Health Information Trust Alliance published an analysis of the 108 breaches reported to HHS from Sept. 23, 2009 (when reporting first started under the HITECH Act) to mid-July.  This review illustrates the major impact of theft on healthcare providers.   Of 108 total reported breaches, 68 were the result of theft.  Indeed, the only type of breach experienced by every healthcare industry sector was theft.   The most common thefts involved laptops and removable data drives and devices.   The majority of the data found on these devices remains unencrypted.  This lack of encryption is significant given that, as with the breach notification laws in most states, there is a notification safe harbor under the HITECH Act implementation regulations whenever the stolen data is encrypted. 

This review of HHS reported breaches highlights what risk managers have likely known for some time now, namely that it is important to better train employees regarding the use and maintenance of laptops/memory devices.  Although not nearly as “top of mind” as better training, risk managers are now understanding the value in deploying system-wide encryption solutions.  There is obviously much less likelihood of the breach turning into a major financial incident when there is no notification.  In other words, whether the added expense of encryption — both financial and time-driven — is worth it to a healthcare provider gets answered each day there is another publicly noticed breach.