An orthopedic clinic in North Carolina recently reported a major data breach when X-ray films were stolen for their silver content, and El Centro Regional Medical Center in California has just reported a similar breach.

These types of breaches have become increasingly common as silver prices have risen in recent years and silver can easily be extracted from the films. Local media during the past year report stolen X-rays from hospitals in Alabama, California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Virginia, among others, as well as in Toronto, Ottawa and London in Canada.

El Centro and some other hospitals contracted with a vendor to digitize X-rays and then properly dispose of them, but the vendor recycled the silver and disappeared. Elsewhere, persons posing as employees of recycling firms came into hospitals claiming to have been contracted to remove old films and were allowed to take them. At one hospital, security turned away two men posing as recycling employees, but they later returned, went directly to the radiology department and were permitted to take the films. Some suspects have been arrested after being identified from surveillance cameras inside victimized hospitals.

El Centro now is developing a program to credential vendors and their representatives. The hospital has not publicly announced the scope of the breach and a spokesperson did not return a phone call asking for more information. The breach is not yet on the HHS Office for Civil Rights Web site that lists breaches affecting 500 or more individuals.

Compromised protected health information from the El Centro breach includes patient name, address, date of birth, medical record number, hospital account number, insurance number, physicians’ names, diagnoses, radiology procedures, radiology interpretations and “some” Social Security numbers. The hospital is offering affected patients free credit monitoring services.

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