Penn State Hershey notifies patients of potential information breach

Jun 06 2014

June 6, 2014

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is notifying 1,801 patients that their protected health information had the potential to be accessed by individuals not involved in their care due to the actions of an employee. The information is specifically related to a type of test ordered by Penn State Hershey women’s health or family medicine clinicians, as well as other medical practitioners in the community who used Penn State Hershey laboratories for testing, between August 1, 2013 and March 26, 2014.

Results of an extensive internal investigation give no indication that any unauthorized person actually viewed or accessed this protected health information as a result of the employee’s activity. However, because the employee worked with this information on devices and systems outside the safeguards and controls of the secure Penn State Hershey information network, we cannot completely rule out the possibility and are notifying patients out of an abundance of caution.

On April 11, 2014, Penn State Hershey learned that one of our clinical laboratory technicians had been working with protected health information—entering this information into a test log—from his home. Specifically, the test log contained information related to tests ordered in conjunction with patient visits that occurred at Penn State Hershey’s women’s health and family practice clinician offices. It also contained information from other physicians’ offices in the community that used Penn State Hershey’s lab to perform the tests over the same time period. The test log information included patient names, medical record numbers, name of lab test, visit dates, and test results.

The employee was authorized to access and use this information because of his job at Penn State Hershey. However he worked on the test log at home using systems and devices outside the secured Penn State Hershey system—his personal computer, a removable storage device (a flash drive) to transport the log home to continue his work after hours and his personal email account to send the updated test log to two Penn State Hershey physicians.

No Social Security numbers and no financial information were included in the test log.

Penn State Hershey considers patient privacy and confidentiality to be of the utmost importance and chose to notify patients of this incident out of an abundance of caution. To decrease the likelihood of similar circumstances occurring in the future, Penn State Hershey is increasing education efforts with employees, focusing on the essential responsibility of all staff to safeguard patient health information at all times and follow proper practices for doing so.

We are attempting to reach all 1,801 patients by personal letter. Any patient who believes they may be among those whose information was involved in this situation but has not received a letter by June 12, 2014 is encouraged to call (877) 223-3689, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time (closed on U.S. observed holidays). Please be prepared to provide the following ten-digit reference number when calling: 7045053014.