New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University entered into a settlement with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to resolve allegations that the organizations had violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) by failing to secure thousands of patients’ electronic protected health information (ePHI) housed on the hospital and university's shared network. At $4.8 million — $3.3 million to be paid by New York-Presbyterian, and $1.5 million to be paid by Columbia University — this represents the largest HIPAA settlement to date. A fine of this magnitude for a technical security standard violation underscores OCR’s commitment to impose harsh consequences to parties obligated to comply with HIPAA who fail to do so.
The alleged breach, which was reported jointly to the OCR by the organizations and occurred in September 2010, involved the unauthorized disclosure of the ePHI of 6,800 individuals, including their respective patient status, vital signs, medications, and lab results. The organizations reported the alleged breach promptly upon learning from an individual who had found a deceased partner’s ePHI from New York-Presbyterian Hospital on the Internet. The investigation revealed that the breach was caused by a physician employed by Columbia University who created applications for both organizations had deactivated a personally owned computer server on the hospitals’ shared network containing New- York Presbyterian patient information, which inadvertently resulted in patient information being accessible on Internet search engines.
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