HHS submits its annual report to Congress on breaches

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  Office of Civil Rights has submitted its mandated report to Congress on breach reports it has received. The report covers incidents reported between September 23, 2009 (the date the breach notification requirements became effective), and December 31, 2010. Here are some of the highlights of the report:

Major causes of breaches, as reported to and by HHS:

The breach reports submitted to the Secretary in 2009 described four general causes of incidents: (1) theft; (2) intentional unauthorized access to, use, or disclosure of protected health information; (3) human error; and (4) loss of electronic media or paper records containing protected health information.

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The breach reports submitted to the Secretary in 2010 described five general causes of incidents, four of which were also reported in 2009: (1) theft; (2) loss of electronic media or paper records containing protected health information; (3) unauthorized access to, use, or disclosure of protected health information; (4) human error; and (5) improper disposal. In comparison to 2009, in 2010, the number of individuals affected by the loss of electronic media or paper records was greater than those affected by unauthorized access or human error. Moreover, the reports received in 2010 contained incidents involving an additional category, improper disposal of paper records by the covered entity or business associate…… Theft was once again the most common reported cause of large breaches. Among the 207 breaches that affected 500 or more individuals, 99 incidents involved theft of paper records or electronic media, together affecting approximately 2,979,121 individuals.

A more refined analysis is contained in the report.

With respect to the smaller breaches (i.e., those affecting less than 500 individuals):

HHS received approximately 5,521 reports of smaller breaches that occurred between September 23, 2009, and December 31, 2009. These smaller breaches affected approximately 12,000 individuals. HHS received more than 25,000 reports of smaller breaches that occurred between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2010. These smaller breaches affected more than 50,000 individuals.

The majority of small breach reports in 2009 and 2010 involved misdirected communications and affected just one individual each. Often, a clinical or claims record of one individual was mistakenly mailed or faxed to another individual. In other instances, test results were sent to the wrong patient, files were attached to the wrong patient record, emails were sent to the wrong addresses, and member ID cards were mailed to the wrong individuals.

Report: HHS: Annual Report to Congress on Breaches of Unsecured Protected Health Information For Calendar Years 2009 and 2010

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