Of the top 10 largest breaches reported on the OCR list based on the number of individuals affected, insurance plans were responsible for four.
Hospitals/provider networks were responsible for only 27% of the total records affected by breaches or 1.3 million records. Physician practices accounted for only 8% of the total number of records compromised by breaches.
That’s not such a surprise when you consider the large number of patient records that insurance plans deal with, says Hourihan. Physician practices may have patients’ PHI in the form of paper records or stored electronically on a computer. If a laptop computer is lost or stolen, it may contain only a few hundred patient records.
On the other hand, a breach by an insurance plan is likely to involve thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of records.
So, although physician practices are responsible for the second highest number of breaches, the relative damages for physician practices in terms of the number of records is fairly low, Hourihan says.
Insurers do not have many breaches, but when a breach occurs, it can be of a huge magnitude, he says.
For instance, the largest breach reported so far is by AvMed, Inc. of Florida and involved 1,222,000 patient records from the theft of a laptop computer in December, 2009. The second largest breach was reported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, resulting from the theft of hard drives in October 2009; it affected 998,442 patients.
Correspondent Joanne Finnegan contributed to this report.