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Another Example HIPAA violation – Failure to deactivate a personal computer on the server

$4.8 million – largest HIPAA settlement to date

Another Example HIPAA violation – Failure to deactivate a personal computer on the server

Image courtesy of [hin255] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Source: Lexology

Author: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

On May 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a press release announcing that two health care organizations—New York and Presbyterian Hospital (“NYP”) and Columbia University (“CU”)—agreed to resolve charges that they potentially violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) privacy and security rules by failing to secure thousands of patients’ electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) on their network. The monetary payments total $4.8 million, which is the largest HIPAA settlement to date. This settlement suggests that OCR is increasing its settlement amounts and expects entities to know where their ePHI is located and how it is being accessed.

Background

NYP and CU are separate covered entities affiliated as “New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.” NYP and CU operate a shared data network and a shared network firewall that is administered by employees of both entities. The shared network links to NYP patient information systems containing ePHI.

On Sept. 27, 2010, OCR received a joint breach report from NYP and CU indicating that the information of 6,800 individuals, including patient status, vital signs, medications, and laboratory results, had been accessible to Google and other Internet search engines. The entities learned of the breach after receiving a complaint by an individual who found the ePHI of the individual’s deceased partner, a former patient of NYP, on the Internet.

An investigation by OCR revealed that the breach was caused when a CU physician who developed applications for both NYP and CU attempted to deactivate a personally owned computer server on the network containing NYP patient ePHI. “Because of a lack of technical safeguards, deactivation of the server resulted in ePHI being accessible on Internet search engines,” according to OCR’s press release.

In addition to the impermissible disclosure of ePHI on the Internet, OCR alleged:

  • Neither NYP nor CU made efforts prior to the breach to assure that the server was secure and that it contained appropriate software protections.
  • Neither NYP nor CU had conducted an accurate and thorough risk analysis that incorporated all IT equipment, applications, and data systems utilizing ePHI.
  • Neither NYP nor CU had developed an adequate risk management plan that addressed the potential threats and hazards to the security of ePHI.
  • NYP failed to implement appropriate policies and procedures for authorizing access to its databases and failed to comply with its own policies on information access management.

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