The new Director of the HHS Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) has promised to continue the agency’s trend towards greater HIPAA enforcement, but, following a data breach, OCR may not be a provider’s or contractor’s only concern. On September 28, Shana Springer, a California woman whose protected health information was unknowingly made public, along with the information of approximately 20,000 other emergency room patients, filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The suit seeks approximately $20 million in damages from the hospital ultimately responsible for the breach, Stanford Hospital & Clinics.
The suit follows a breach that was originally made public in early September. A spreadsheet containing data (including patient names, diagnosis codes, dates of treatment, and billing information) on 20,000 patients treated in the Stanford emergency department during a six month period in 2009 was discovered as a publicly available document on the website Student of Fortune. Student of Fortune is a public site designed to allow students to seek paid help with their homework by posting assignments. The information had originally been entrusted to a Los Angeles billing contractor, Multi-Specialty Collection Services. Neither Student of Fortune nor Multi-Specialty Collection Services has explained how the spreadsheet came to be posted to the publicly available Student of Fortune database. When the information was discovered by a patient and Stanford notified, the spreadsheet was immediately removed from the Student of Fortune website and the data breach
was reported to HHS OCR.
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