43,000 patients of West Virginia-based Coplin Health Systems have been advised that their PHI has possibly been exposed due to the theft of an unencrypted laptop computer from the vehicle of a member of staff.
Coplin Health was made aware to the theft of the laptop on November 2, 2017. The theft was quickly reported to law enforcement and an investigation was begun, although at the time of sending notifications, the laptop computer has not been located.
While the protected health information of patients may have been stored on the laptop, Coplin Health does not feel that was the case, although the potential for data exposure cannot be eliminated out with 100% certainty.
Coplin Health has commented that the laptop had various security protections in place to safeguard the privacy of patients in the event of something like this occurring. While the laptop could possibly be used to gain access to patient data, a password would have been needed and it is not thought that the thief had “the sophisticated knowledge and resources necessary to bypass the laptop’s security mechanisms.”
Additionally, Coplin Health’s IT department took quick action to minimize the potential for harm. The employee’s login credentials were changed to stop the laptop from being used to access Coplin Health’s systems, and no efforts have been made to access its systems using the laptop since the device was taken.
The potential of patient data being saved locally on the device is thought to be low, although if that was the case, the device would have stored files that included patient names, addresses, Social Security details, birth dates, financial data and health information. As a precautionary measure, 43,000 patients have been made aware of the potential exposure of their PHI.
The incident has lead to Coplin Health completing a review of its security protections and actions have been taken to avoid a recurrence of this issue. Coplin Health will also enhance monitoring to make sure policies and procedures are being adhered to by its staff and any future breach of policies will result in disciplinary action being taken against the employees involved.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) states that covered entities must consider the use of encryption, although the use of encryption is not obligatory. The decision about the use of encryption should be rationalized using a risk assessment. If encryption is not used, similar measures must be used in its stead. Coplin Health has not commented on whether it plans to augment its security protections with encryption going forward..