This week, the federal government levied a fine of $4.3 million on the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for HIPAA violations stemming from major data breaches in 2012 and 2013. The theft of an employee’s laptop and two separate incidents involving misplaced thumb drives resulted in the potential exposure of the medical records of approximately 35,000 patients.
Administrative Law Judge Steven Kessel, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), passed down the decision, decrying the healthcare facility’s lax approach to implementing data security measures. According to Texas Public Radio, the fine is the fourth largest in HSS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) history.
MD Anderson doesn’t dispute the loss of the computer and the data storage devices. But the healthcare facility also maintains the fine is out of proportion to the infraction because it can’t be proved that medical records were specifically compromised.
“In all three cases involving the loss or theft of devices reviewed by the Administrative Law Judge, there is no evidence any patient information was viewed or any harm to patients was caused,” the healthcare facility told the Houston Chronicle, in a statement issued after the ruling.
MD Anderson also argues that the records in question shouldn’t be held to the most stringent standards of privacy protection because the data was primarily being used for research purposes.
Even if there’s truth to the questionable claim that HIPAA regulations don’t fully apply to research-based health records, Roger Severino, director of the OCR, believes facility leadership was fully aware they needed a better approach to data security.
“MD Anderson knew, since 2006, that it should be encrypting its devices,” Severino told Texas Public Radio. “Their own people were saying ‘we should encrypt, we should encrypt.’”
MD Anderson officials expressed intention to appeal the decision.
Main image credit: Associated Press/Pat Sullivan
Filed Under: Industry regulations