U.K. Fines Fertility Docs Over Patient Conversation Leaks

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By Ali Qassim

The U.K. privacy office fined a private-sector medical services company 200,000 pounds ($248,000) for allowing private doctor-patient fertility treatment conversations to appear online, the regulator announced Feb. 28.

The enforcement action highlights the need for companies doing business in the U.K. to review the data security efforts of third-party contractors that process personal data.

The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that private health care company HCA International Ltd. failed to ensure that an India-based data processing contractor appropriately protected patients’ personal conversations with doctors.

HCA recorded certain conversations between physicians and patients concerning fertility treatment. HCA routinely sent the unencrypted audio recordings by e-mail to a third-party processor in India that transcribed them, the ICO said.

Confidential Conversations Exposed

The enforcement action began when conversations between doctors and patients were found online. The third-party contractor used an unsecured server that didn’t “restrict access to the transcripts,” according to the ICO’s monetary penalty notice.

“The situation could have been avoided entirely if HCA International had taken the time to check up on the methods used by the contract company,” ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said in a Feb. 28 statement. The compromised patients discussed private medical conversations “and certainly didn’t expect this information to be placed online,” he said.

“The hospital had a duty to keep the information secure,” and when the data is made available “online it can be accessed by anyone and could have caused even more distress to people who were already going through a difficult time,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Qassim in London at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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