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Latest Disease in Hospitals: Identity Loss

When it comes to laptop theft, medical institutions are getting a rash

Medical patients now have a new complication to worry about: disappearing computeritis.

In the past two weeks, four medical institutions have suffered thefts of laptops, threatening the privacy and security of medical records for more than 300,000 patients.

The largest loss was reported yesterday, when the state of Pennsylvania reported the loss of two laptops containing the mental health histories of more than 300,000 medical-assistance recipients. The computers were taken Aug. 22 during an overnight break-in at a state Public Welfare Department office in the former Harrisburg State Hospital.

On Friday, health-care services company McKesson reportedly was alerting "thousands" of its patients that their personal information is at risk after two of its computers were stolen from an office. The company, which helps pharmaceutical manufacturers set up assistance programs for patients in need, told patients the computers were stolen on July 18.

On Sept. 1, Johns Hopkins Hospital reported that a desktop computer containing the personal information of 5,783 patients was stolen in mid-July. Officials defended their decision to wait more than five weeks before informing the patients of the theft, saying they did not want to compromise the effort to recover the computer.

On Aug. 31, the Hospital for Sick Children reported the loss of a removable hard drive containing more than 3,300 patient records.

The rash of laptop thefts comes just months after a major security breach at a Website services contractor led to the exposure of medical records at at least seven major U.S. hospitals. (See Medical IT Contractor Folds After Breaches.)

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading