Federal agency could investigate online security breach of Lawrence Memorial Hospital patient records

Christine Metz reports:

Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials anticipate there will be a federal investigation into a security breach that potentially compromised the financial information of more than 8,000 of its patients.

That investigation could result in a $25,000 fine from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, which is the regulatory agency that oversees patient privacy and confidentiality, hospital leaders said Wednesday.

This week, LMH mailed thousands of letters alerting patients who had used the hospital’s online bill pay service that their contact and financial information could have been accessed online. Since 2005, LMH had contracted with the Wichita-based Mid Continent Credit Services to provide online billing.

Read more on Wellcommons.com.

One would expect HHS to investigate a breach report of this kind, so I don’t see where this is really news, and the possibility of fine seems remote in light of HHS’s track record on issuing fines. What is more interesting (to me, anyway) is the clarification on details as to whether the contractor or subcontractor was proximally responsible for the breach:

From what the hospital can deduce, Brick Wire did a system upgrade on Sept. 20 and left a portal open that contained payment records from 28 LMH patients. That information was accessed by Google, which then cached the page and kept the information public. LMH officials also believe from that portal there was a way to access a database that contained information on every patient who had used the online bill pay system since it was first offered in 2005.

“Literally, it was like leaving the door to the house open,” Thomas said.

At a LMH board meeting Wednesday morning, the hospital’s general counsel Andy Ramirez said the hospital did not own or maintain the computers that operated the online bill pay system. He also provided some clarification on what happened.

“No one was hacked,” Ramirez said. “This was a self inflicted wound by Brick Wire.”

After a “challenging phone conference” with Mid Continent Credit Services, Ramirez said, it was agreed that the hospital would be held harmless and that the event was “completely outside the control of the hospital.”

So it sounds like breach costs will be paid by Mid Continent – unless they had a contract with Brick Wire that will enable them to stick Brick Wire with the costs.

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