Touchstone Medical Imaging to pay $3 million settlement for security breach

May 14, 2019
by John R. Fischer, Staff Reporter
A medical imaging service provider in Tennessee has agreed to pay $3 million to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a settlement for a security breach that exposed the protected health information of more than 300,000 patients.

The result of an FTP server providing uncontrolled access to patients’ personal health information, the breach at Touchstone Medical Imaging led to the leaking of names, birth dates, social security numbers, and addresses among other information. The details were accessed and indexed by search engines, and remained on the internet even after the server was taken offline.

“This information in the wrong hands could lead to identity theft, credit fraud, medical fraud, targeted phishing and a number of other attacks that take advantage of personal information,” Mac McMillan, CEO and president at cybersecurity consulting firm CynergisTek, told HCB News. “Moving forward, improving basic cyber hygiene, testing and monitoring their systems proactively will help to avoid this type of misstep. Improving incident response to include relations with Federal authorities trying to help you will also help mitigate risk.”

Notified by the FBI of the breach in May 2014, as well as OCR, Touchstone initially claimed that no patient PHI was exposed, only to later admit that the information of more than 300,000 patients was breached.

An investigation by OCR found that Touchstone waited several months to investigate after being notified of the breach by both the FBI and OCR, preventing patients from being alerted in a timely manner. It also discovered that the Franklin-based practice failed to conduct accurate and thorough risk analyses for potential risks and vulnerabilities within the confidentiality, integrity and availability of its electronic PHI, and that it did not have business associate agreements set up with its vendors, including its IT support vendor and a third-party data center provider, as required by HIPAA.

“Basically, Touchstone failed in its responsibility to understand its risk from its supply chain partners and their partners, which is not uncommon in healthcare. Simply having a business associate agreement is only the first step,” said McMillan. “Organizations need to articulate security requirements in contract documents, perform pre- and post-security reviews, and require vendors to provide updates when anything changes that could impact the security of their data. That includes downstream subcontractors to their supply chain partner.”

He adds that such an incident is a reminder of how “healthcare is an attractive target for cyber criminals because of the richness of its data.”

The company will adopt a corrective action plan as a settlement for potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security and Breach Notification Rules. The plan will require Touchstone to adopt business associate agreements, complete an enterprise-wide risk analysis, and enact comprehensive policies and procedures that comply with HIPAA rules.

"Touchstone Medical Imaging takes cybersecurity very seriously," Touchstone Medical Imaging's director of corporate compliance, Cassie Sellers, told HCB News. "The fact that even one of our patients' demographic information could have been accessed is one too many. Since this event occurred five years ago, we have invested heavily in our cybersecurity program, upgraded our IT systems, and added dedicated IT and privacy staff. We will continue to dedicate whatever resources are necessary to protect the privacy and security of our patients' information."

Touchstone provides diagnostic medical imaging services in Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Arkansas.