Pager system hack resulted in HIPAA breach for Providence Health & Services

A while back, I was shown some live-streaming of a pager system that was being used in what appeared to be a hospital environment, as the pages included room numbers, patient medication information, etc. Unable to figure out what entity or organization was responsible for the system and the exposure as pages flew by rapidly, I wasn’t able to contact/alert any organization. Watching the stream, all I could think was, “Yikes… what a mess!”

I don’t know if the following report is related to what I saw, as I can no longer retrieve the date of the incident I observed, but on December 21, Providence Health & Services‘s Privacy Officer and Compliance Manager for the Oregon region  wrote to an undisclosed number of patients:

…. The incident occurred between Oct. 25, 2016 and Oct. 28, 2016. We became aware of this incident on Oct. 27, 2016. We immediately began an investigation to understand what occurred.

Between Oct. 25, 2016 and Oct. 28, 2016, an unauthorized individual accessed the paging system used by Providence and several other health care organizations, public safety departments and businesses. This unauthorized individual then posted the pages on their website, where each page remained for a very limited time (a couple of minutes at most) before it was removed from the site and was not retrievable.

Information related to you was intercepted and displayed on [Insert Disclosure Date]. The information displayed about you included your demographic information (which could include your name, date of birth, and room number), and may have limited clinical information (which could include medication, symptoms, medical record numbers, procedures, or diagnosis.) Your Social Security number, insurance and financial information were not included in the information. We do not believe, nor do we have any evidence, that your information has been further used or disclosed.

The majority of pages containing patient information are urgent and brief, consisting of minimum necessary information. These types of paging systems have long been a standard for critical communications due to the reliability of the technology. We take protecting your personal information very seriously and we have started to investigate more secure methods of paging within our system.

I have yet to see notifications from any other healthcare organizations whose patients may also have had protected health information disclosed. Nor is this incident up on HHS’s public breach tool at this time.

This post will be updated if more information becomes available.

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