Cyber Attack at Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients-Could This be a New Trend?

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar  in Health Law

On August 18, 2014, Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based hospital chain that has 206 hospitals in 29 states, announced that its computer system was hacked. According to a number of news reports, an outside group of hackers, originating in China, used highly sophisticated malware and technology to steal 4.5 million patients’ non-medical data. The hackers were able to obtain patients’ names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and telephone numbers.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, in Florida, St. Cloud Surgical Associates, St. Cloud Medical Group, and Urology Associates of St. Cloud were among the practices where medical data was stolen. The article did not mention how many patients in Florida were affected. Click here to read the story from the Orlando Sentinel.

How Community Health Systems will Handle Being Hacked.

According to The New York Times, Community Health Systems believes the attacks happened from April to June 2014. The company will be notifying affected patients and agencies under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The hospital system is now working with a security company to investigate the incident and help prevent future attacks. Federal law enforcement agents are also investigating the incident. Click here to read the entire article from The New York Times.

Because this breach affected more than 500 individuals, it will soon be posted on the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Wall of Shame. The law requires that any breach involving 500 or more individuals be publicly posted. To learn more on the Wall of Shame, click here for my previous blog.

Protect Your Practice As Best You Can From Cyber Attacks.

Cyber hacking in the medical community appears to be a crime of opportunity. Quickly there are becoming two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked.

While there is no way to guarantee protection from extrusion and external sources, there are steps that can be taken. For medical practices, many of these are required as part of a HIPAA risk assessment. Some areas to focus on include:

–    Background checks;
–    Comprehensive policies and procedures;
–    Vigilance when it comes to monitoring and data-leakage prevention tools; and
–    Employee education.

Medical practices are going to become bigger targets as the health care industry transitions to electronic health records. In addition, the hacking community is figuring out it is easier to hack a hospital or private practice, than it is a bank and you get the same information. To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Comments?

How do you protect your medical practice from hackers? Do you have regular risk assessments? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Perlroth, Nicole. “Hack of Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients.” The New York Times. (August 18, 2014). From: http://nyti.ms/1pFpujC

Kutscher, Beth. “Chinese Hackers Hit Community Health Systems; Other Vulnerable.” Modern Healthcare. (August 18, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1BxsLqH

Jacobson, Susan. “St. Cloud Medical Patients’ Information Among Millions Stolen in Cyber Attack.” (August 18, 2014). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-hospital-data-breach-st-cloud-20140818,0,3157319.story

Rose, Rachel. “Protecting Your Medical Practices From Cyber Threats.” Physicians Practice. (July 17, 2014). From: http://www.physicianspractice.com/blog/protecting-your-medical-practice-cyberthreats

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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