Stolen laptop had health info of 620,000 patients

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said Wednesday he is “outraged” a laptop containing key information on 620,000 patients was stolen four months ago but only now brought to his department’s attention.

EDMONTON — Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said Wednesday he is “outraged” a laptop containing key information on 620,000 patients was stolen four months ago but only now brought to his department’s attention.

The information includes unencrypted names, birthdates, health card numbers, billing codes, billing amounts and diagnostic codes for patients who were seen at Medicentre clinics around the province from May 2, 2011, to Sept. 19, 2013.

Horne said the laptop was stolen Sept. 26 and reported by Medicentre days later, on Oct. 1, to Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton and the Edmonton police.

Horne, however, said he and his department were not told until Tuesday, when he received a letter from the vice president of Medicentres.

“On behalf of the citizens of this province I’m quite frankly outraged that this would not have been reported to myself or my department sooner,” Horne told a news conference at the legislature.

Horne said he has asked Clayton to investigate the matter under the Health Information Act to determine what happened and whether any breaches of privacy legislation have occurred.

“I will pursue this matter to the full extent of the law,” he said.

Medicentres operate a chain of primary care clinics.

Dr. Arif Bhimji, the chief medical officer for Medicentres, apologized for the information leak.

“Medicentres and myself are truly sorry for what has occurred,” said Bhimji in an interview.

Bhimji said they took what they felt were correct steps, by working with the government through the privacy office and reporting the theft to police.

But he said in hindsight it would have been better to keep Horne in the loop.

“I’ve certainly learned that perhaps I should have included the minister at a much earlier stage,” said Bhimji.

“It certainly was not our intention to cause the anguish that has been reported.”

Bhimji said they upgraded privacy safeguards.

Among other changes, all patient information is now encrypted, it is no longer put on laptops unless absolutely necessary, and fewer employees and consultants have access to patient data, he said.

He said Horne was notified of the breach Wednesday as part of the roll out of Medicentre’s public information campaign, which includes newspaper ads Thursday and a call centre to handle questions from patients.

“They (Horne’s office) chose to make the announcement a day earlier than we had planned,” said Bhimji.

Bhimji said the laptop has not been found but says no one has since used one of the stolen names to try to fraudulently get care at a Medicentre.

He said the stolen diagnostic codes would reveal a patient’s general ailment, but not details.

Clayton was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Brian Hamilton, Clayton’s director of compliance and special investigations, said they have been working with Medicentres since the breach.

When asked why the privacy commissioner did not inform Horne’s office last fall, Hamilton said Clayton is duty bound and compelled by legislation to restrict the information to those directly involved.

“It wouldn’t be our practice to notify the minister unless the breach involved one of the ministry’s information systems,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton said they can urge a company to report a privacy breach to a government department, but can’t order it to do so.

He said Clayton would make a decision as early as Thursday on whether to launch an investigation.

Wildrose party critic Kerry Towle said the issue raises larger concerns about Albertans’ privacy.

“(Albertans) have a right to expect immediate notification if their personal information has been compromised in any way,” said Towle in a news release.

Just Posted

Town of Sylvan Lake takes over provincial park

Provincial government announced official transfer of park to town on Thursday

Red Deer Lowe’s welcomes shoppers

Grand opening giveaways all weekend

Olds father charged for alleged sexual offences on child

Child porn and sexual assault among charges

Nordegg gas station broken into

RCMP says thousands of dollars worth of goods taken in Tuesday break-in

Red Deer man says more cardiac care needed here

Ryan Gillies spent several extra days in hospital waiting to get a stent in Edmonton

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month