A national hospital company's computer system has been hacked, and sensitive personal details about millions of patients have been compromised.
Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which operates more than 200 hospitals in 29 states, has told federal regulators that Chinese hackers stole the names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other personal information of 4.5 million patients.
The breach happened in April and June of this year and affects patients who -- in the last five years -- have been referred to or treated by health care providers that are affiliated with the hospital chain, according to a filing sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Community Health Systems says the breach didn't involve patients' credit card numbers or medical information, just "non-medical patient identification data."
"Since first learning of this attack, the company has worked closely with federal law enforcement authorities in connection with their investigation and possible prosecution of those determined to be responsible for this attack," the filing says.
Breach announcement delay is common
The attack appeared to have happened during the spring, so why are we just hearing about it in late summer?
It's common for there to be some type of delay when a company releases information about a data breach, says Mark Savage, director of health information technology policy and programs for the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington, D.C.
"It takes a little while to determine what's the nature of the breach, what kind of information was taken, what are the particular laws that apply, and so forth," he says.
Community Health Systems is offering identity theft protection services to consumers who've been affected, but this benefit shouldn't deter patients from doing what they can to make sure their information is secure, Savage says.
"That's no substitute for the affected individuals to be monitoring their own accounts and systems," he says. "That's good practice whether or not there's been a hack."
See a map of the Community Health Systems hospitals here.
Data breaches are more common than you may think. Take a look at 11 major breaches that occurred in the U.S. over the past decade.
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