Delay in reporting theft of patients' data

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 June, 2010, 12:00am

Medical records and personal information of some 3,000 eye patients are suspected to have been stolen, the Caritas Medical Centre reported yesterday - more than a week after the incident was made known to management.

The data was stored in an unused hard disk of an old computer in a workshop of the centre's ophthalmology department.

The data had been scheduled for disposal on June 10, but officers found on that day that the hard disk had been taken out of the computer.

The data stored in the hard disk included the medical records and personal information - including name, sex, age and ID card number - of about 3,000 eye patients of the centre.

A centre spokeswoman said: 'The data has been copied to a replacement computer and we have not lost the patients' records. We are trying to contact all of them to inform them of the incident.'

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, spokesman for the Patients Rights Association, said: 'The incident shows that the medical staff at public hospitals have not learned from past mistakes. They do not seem to care about patients' privacy. The data should have been destroyed after they copied the files, instead of leaving them in the hard disk.'

Pang also accused the centre of trying to cover up the incident. 'The centre should have reported the case to police and made it public much sooner,' he said.

But the centre first had to look for the hard disk and ask staff members if they knew where it was - and this took a few days - before deciding to report the case to the police, the spokeswoman said. Police classified the case as theft.

The centre has also reported the matter to the Hospital Authority and the privacy commissioner's office.

Public concern has been raised in recent years over a series of incidents involving the loss of patients' medical records at public hospitals.

In 2008, Yan Chai Hospital lost the records of 3,000 patients stored on 11 computer disks. Last year, a United Christian Hospital eye doctor lost a USB flash drive that stored information on some 47 patients.