By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceOctober 11, 2011
WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2011 -- The TRICARE Management Activity is reviewing its data protection policies and procedures in the wake of a data breach involving personal health information of an estimated 4.9 million military clinic and hospital patients.
The breach potentially affects patients who received care or filled pharmacy prescriptions in San Antonio-area military treatment facilities from 1992 through Sept. 7, 2011, TRICARE spokesman Austin Camacho reported.
Other beneficiaries who received care elsewhere, but whose laboratory workups were processed in San Antonio military treatment facilities, also could be affected, he said.
Science Applications International Corp., a TRICARE contractor, reported the data breach Sept. 14. Backup tapes from an electronic health care record the military health system used to capture patient data since 1992 were lost, Camacho reported.
The exact circumstances of the loss are part of TRICARE's investigation, he said. Those results are expected to be published as soon as possible.
The tapes may include Social Security numbers, addresses and phone numbers, as well as personal health data such as clinical notes, laboratory tests and prescriptions, he said. No financial data such as credit card or bank account information is included.
Despite the information involved, TRICARE officials estimate the risk of harm to patients to be relatively low.
"Reading the tapes takes special machinery. Moreover, it takes a highly skilled individual to interpret the data on the tapes," Camacho said. "Since we do not believe the tapes were taken with malicious intent, we believe the risk to beneficiaries is low."
As TRICARE officials investigate the incident, they plan to notify everyone whose personal information may have been involved in the breach, Camacho said.
TRICARE and SAIC are working together to come up with that list of names, but because of the number of people potentially affected and the need to review multiple databases, Camacho said, individual notifications could take four to six weeks.
In the meantime, TRICARE officials encourage people who suspect they were affected by this incident to take steps outlined on the Federal Trade Commission website to protect their personal information. They also can monitor their credit and place a free fraud alert on their credit for 90 days using the FTC website.
Concerned patients may contact the SAIC Incident Response Call Center at no charge, Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Stateside, patients may call toll-free to 855-366-0140. Overseas, patients can make collect calls to 952-556-8312.