Let's hope Windsor police are right, and the recent break-in at a Windsor obstetrician's office was all about stealing computers - and not the personal information they contained.

"To me, it's probably a crime of opportunity, until we learn otherwise, it would be speculative to think that somebody took (the computers) to obtain information for fraud purposes," Sgt. Matt D'Asti said last week. "I don't believe we have evidence to suggest that at this time."

All told, D'Asti said the value of the missing items, including a laptop and a desktop computer, is about $1,000. Not a great deal of money but, in a case like this, it's almost impossible to put a price tag on the personal and sensitive health records and OHIP information that's stored on the computer's memory.

In fact, Dr. Shobhana Patel issued a public notice in The Windsor Star last week warning her patients about a possible privacy breach due to the theft of computers from her office. The theft took place in late June at the South Walkerville Medical Centre on Walker Road.

Patel advised patients that the computers contained their names, addresses, contact information and health card numbers, as well as OHIP billing codes.

"While the computer was password protected, I have no way of knowing whether the perpetrators have accessed the information contained on the stolen computer," Patel said in the notice.

The incident - in addition to the involvement of Windsor police - has been reported to Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner and the commissioner's office has confirmed that the circumstances of the breach are under investigation.

Certainly, we welcome the involvement of Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, who has been a vocal advocate of privacy protection in both the private and public sector for two decades.

Two years ago, Cavoukian was front and centre after Cancer Care Ontario announced that confidential colon cancer screening reports may not have been delivered to about 6,500 waiting patients. The missing reports contained information including names, birth dates, gender, health card numbers and the cancer screening test data.

At the time, Cavoukian pointed out that "medical test results rank among the most sensitive personal information about an individual ... I am astounded that such a loss could take place."

That wasn't the first concern about the security of health records in Ontario. Questions have been raised about the ability of eHealth - the province's vehicle to create an electronic system to record provincial health data - to manage sensitive health information and ensure privacy.

Four years ago, Deloitte & Touche LLP conducted an operational review of eHealth's forerunner - the Smart Systems for Health Agency. The review found privacy policies were "incomplete and not widely understood." We hope the case of the Windsor computer theft is quickly resolved, and also that Cavoukian's office will issue a public report on its findings - not only for the benefit of patients but also for doctors. There should be clear security directives for doctors to follow in their offices, and clear guidelines for informing patients after any breaches.

Ontarians have an absolute right to believe that every measure will be taken to ensure that their personal health information is treated securely and remains private.