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    New York Times: Patient Data Landed Online After a Series of Missteps

    The New York Times reports on how the privacy of medical data of patients at Stanford Hospital was breached:

    Private medical data for nearly 20,000 emergency room patients at California’s prestigious Stanford Hospital were exposed to public view for nearly a year because a billing contractor’s marketing agent sent the electronic spreadsheet to a job prospect as part of a skills test, the hospital and contractors confirmed this week. The applicant then sought help by unwittingly posting the confidential data on a tutoring Web site.

    In an e-mail sent to a victim of the breach, the billing contractor, Joe Anthony Reyna, president of Multi-Specialty Collection Services in Los Angeles, explained that his marketing vendor, Frank Corcino, had received the data directly from Stanford Hospital, converted it to a new spreadsheet and then forwarded it to a woman he was considering for a short-term job.

    The position was with Mr. Corcino’s one-man shop, Corcino & Associates, Mr. Reyna wrote in the e-mail, which was authenticated by his lawyer, Ellyn L. Sternfield. The job applicant apparently was challenged to convert the spreadsheet — which included names, admission dates, diagnosis codes and billing charges — into a bar graph and charts, Stanford Hospital officials said.

    Not knowing that she had been given real patient data, the applicant posted it as an attachment to a request for help on studentoffortune.com, which allows students to solicit paid assistance with their work. First posted on Sept. 9, 2010, the spreadsheet remained on the site until a patient discovered it on Aug. 22 and notified Stanford. […]

    Breaches of private medical data have become distressingly commonplace, with two substantial ones disclosed in the last week alone.

    In Orlando, officials with Florida Hospital reported that three employees had improperly combed through emergency department records of 2,252 patients, apparently to forward information about accident victims to lawyers. The employees were fired, and law enforcement officials are investigating.

    Meanwhile, Science Applications International Corporation disclosed that computer backup tapes containing medical data for 4.9 million military patients had been stolen from an employee’s car in San Antonio. The data included Social Security numbers, clinical notes, laboratory test results and prescriptions.

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