Desperately seeking a HIPAA-compliant Ford Mustang

After the harrowing account of a hospice in northern Idaho being slapped with a $50,000 fine for 411 breached patient records, it’s good to see that even the big players — the biggest in the industry — screw up from time to time.

This widely-cited case, first reported by the L.A. Times, tells the story of how healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente got a little sloppy and ended up working with a contractor who stored electronic patient records all over the place, including sometimes storing records — and I love this — in the trunk of his Ford Mustang.

Which raises the obvious question: Are Ford Mustangs HIPAA compliant? What about a Honda Accord? Maybe a PT Cruiser?

And while that’s the wildest part of the story for me, what’s even more fun is the fact that Kaiser and their mom-and-pop patient records handler (yes, literally — mom-and-pop) have been trading accusations in and out of court for the past 2 years, each accusing the other of not caring about patient privacy and data security.

L.A. Times writer Chad Terhune did a masterful job painting a picture of the comical data security with these gems:

  • “On a recent day [the patient records] sat next to a red recliner where Ziggy, the family’s black-and-white cat, curled up for a nap.”
  • “…kept those patient records at a warehouse in Indio that they shared with another man’s party rental business and his Ford Mustang until 2010.”
  • “…Kaiser said the Deans put patient data at risk by leaving two computer hard drives in their garage with the door open. In response, Stephan Dean moved them to a spare room.”
  • “‘We could have sold these emails [with patient records] to somebody in Nigeria, but Kaiser doesn’t care about its patients’ information.'”
  • “‘[Kaiser] should have signed a contract prior to the commencement of this project,” the manager wrote.”

Be sure to read the article all the way to the end. That last sentence is a killer.

Kaiser got into this mess because they gobbled up yet another smaller hospital and needed to absorb all the patient records quickly. So they outsourced the job. No problem there, really. It’s who they outsourced to that ended up being a disaster.

So far, there’s no known patient data breach, which is great for patients. But authorities are investigating and Kaiser’s got a lot of egg on face with such a high-profile piece hitting the Times.

The lessons for your patient data security efforts? Wait… you really need me to spell this out?

It’s simple. You need your own Ziggy — a certified Patient Privacy Attack Cat — and a Mustang. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE FEDERAL CODE, PEOPLE.