Hospital apologises for respiratory infection data breach

Infectious diseases

By Michael Woodhead

7 Aug 2018

SA Health has apologised for a data breach in which test results for children with respiratory infections were published on a hospital website.

Pathology test results relating to patients treated for respiratory infections such as pertussis at the Womens and Children’s Hospital (WCH) from the 1990s to 2004 were accessible on the hospital’s website within a Powerpoint document for more than a decade.

Women’s and Children’s Executive Director of Corporate Services, Phil Robinson, said the patient information was included in an academic presentation on childhood infections.

“It contained embedded data with the names, date of birth and test results for around 7,200 pathology tests taken between 1996 and 2005. The test results related to patients who were treated at the WCH for respiratory infection, gastro or whooping cough. Because the author did not remove the source data in the presentation it was able to be accessed online.

SA Health said it took immediate action to have historic confidential test result details removed from two document-sharing websites once the breach was discovered.

The presentation was removed from the WCH website in 2016, but had been uploaded with the embedded information to the external document sharing website and its affiliate site, without authorisation.

“Once we were alerted to the error late Wednesday afternoon, we identified the nature of the information and contacted the website administrators who removed the presentation containing the data by Thursday afternoon,” said Mr Robinson on Saturday 4 August.

“However, because the data was stored in a cache, it wasn’t completely removed from the internet until late last night.

“We have no evidence to suggest that any of the information has been used inappropriately.”

Mr Robinson stressed that there was no suggestion that any SA Health patient records or information system had been breached.

 “I would like to apologise to those affected by this data error, and if anyone has any concerns or would like more information, I invite them to contact the Women’s and Children’s information line.

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