Laptop stolen with health information of 620,000 Albertans

A laptop with the unencrypted personal health information of 620,000 Albertans was stolen last September, Health Minister Fred Horne announced Wednesday.

The laptop contained the names, dates of birth, provincial health card numbers, billing codes and diagnostic codes of the individuals seen at Medicentres between May 2, 2011, and Sept. 10, 2013. The computer was stolen on Sept. 26. 

Horne said that he was informed of the theft on Tuesday, when he received a letter from the vice-president of Medicentres Family Health Care Clinics. 

He has asked the privacy commissioner for an official investigation under the Health Information Act to find out why health officials have only just been told about the theft. 

“On behalf of the citizens of this province, I am quite frankly, outraged that this would not have been reported to myself or my department sooner," Horne told reporters.

“The theft of personal health information of 620,000 fellow citizens is unacceptable in Alberta’s health-care system in any circumstance.”

Edmonton police, the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Alberta Medical Association have also been notified. 

In a news release, Medicentres says they were told on Oct. 1 that the laptop belonging to an information technology consultant was stolen. Police and the privacy commissioner were notified immediately. 

"To date, Medicentres has no information to suggest that any of the personal information on the laptop has been accessed or misused," the news release states.

"Medicentres has already implemented a number of additional security measures and we are further auditing our security policies and procedures and are implementing further measures to ensure that personal information is further safeguarded.

"Medicentres also takes its responsibility to protect personal health information seriously. We apologize to all of its patients for any concern this may cause."

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton is en route to Edmonton and will decide tomorrow whether to commence an investigation, her spokesman Brian Hamilton said. 

Hamilton said the information contained on the laptop isn't complete enough to commit identity fraud.  However, he said that his office had been urging Medicentres to make the theft public since October. 

Horne said anyone who might be affected can lodge a complaint with the privacy commissioner. 

“When first asked for my reaction about this I was speechless. I find it incredibly hard to believe that in a province such as Alberta that such an incident could occur," he said. 

Opposition leader Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Party said it was inconceivable that it had taken so long for the breach to be made public and that the health minister wasn't notified sooner. 

“Why did all of this information exist in a single file on a computer in the first place?” Smith asked.

“The requirement of the Health Information Act is that vendors are only supposed to access the amount of information that they need to provide the service and no more.”