Seven research sites were shut down indefinitely last month by the US Department of Veterans Affairs after an employee at the Birmingham, Alabama, site reported an external hard drive was missing. All seven sites, where researchers use medical records to evaluate healthcare quality, have each been inspected but research remains closed until the VA decides how to proceed.An employee at Birmingham's Deep South Center for Effectiveness reported on January 22 the missing hard drive, used as backup storage for research data. Researchers at the Deep South Center for Effectiveness study the VA's medical database for large scale trends in healthcare, using the information to improve patient care. An investigation by the VA's inspector general determined that the hard drive contained medical records from 535,000 veterans and 1.3 million non-VA physicians. On February 6, VA secretary James Nicholson suspended research at all seven VA sites performing records-based studies, called Research Enhancement...

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