The Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) has imposed a fine of 460,000 euros on a hospital for failing to protect patient records from unnecessary access in the hospital information system. According to the report, at least 85 hospital employees unnecessarily and unauthorizedly accessed the medical records of a known patient without being involved in the patient’s care.
The regulator made it clear in its press release that the relationship between a healthcare provider and a patient is completely confidential. This also applies within the walls of a hospital. A hospital must therefore take all technical and organizational measures to ensure the security of patient data. Each hospital would need to regularly review who consults which record. This is the only way to take timely action if an unauthorized employee accesses a file.
Patient files should also be technically secured with at least two-factor authentication. Each time a patient record is accessed, a user’s identity would have to be logged by a code or password in combination with a personnel card. Uniform passwords for entire departments or the use of a common user name to avoid having to log in again each time are not permissible.
In order to implement these requirements effectively and as quickly as possible, the supervisory authority is putting the hospital under further pressure: as long as the safety precautions have not been improved, the hospital must pay an additional fine of another 100,000 euros every two weeks, up to a maximum of 300,000 euros. As a result, the hospital faces a maximum fine of 760,000 euros.
Already in October last year, a fine of 400,000 euros was imposed on a hospital in Portugal for a similar violation. The reason for this was also the lack of security of the patient file against access by non-treating medical staff. Even if the national supervisory authorities are in principle free to determine the level of fines, a comparable level of fines must also be expected in Germany for the inadequate security of patient records due to inadequate authorization concepts in hospital information systems.
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