The bad news for patients of the Apopka Fire Department’s EMS operation is the rescue service’s billing agency mistakenly published hundreds of confidential health records on a public website.
The good news is only the city’s lawyer saw it.
Apopka City Attorney Joseph Byrd admitted he was shocked last month when he clicked on the billing agency’s legal response to a city lawsuit and saw patient records.
The billing service, Lakeland-based National EMS Billing, or NEB Group, had uploaded an 1,105-page response July 3 to the Orange County Clerk of Courts’ website, which allows anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone and internet access to see the information, ordinarily safe-guarded by a federal patient-privacy law.
In June, the city sued NEB Group in Circuit Court, leveling a series of charges against the billing service, including fraud.
David Sulik, president of NEB Group, downplayed the risk posed by the documents, which he uploaded to the clerk’s site without the help or advice of a lawyer.
“Nobody should be worried about any of the documents,” Sulik told the Apopka Chief, the city’s weekly newspaper.
“I can go into the phone book, your average phone book, and get more material than anything we had."
Byrd disagreed Wednesday at an Apopka City Council meeting.
“That’s only true if the phone book gives your blood pressure and all of your diagnostic information,” he said.
Byrd said he believes Circuit Judge Keith Carsten was correct to issue an emergency order sealing the document from prying eyes.
The judge ruled July 15, the day Byrd brought the concern to him.
Despite the potential exposure, only one person clicked on the errant filing.
Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell reviewed computer records and found that “City of Apopka vs NEB Group, Inc.” had been viewed 161 times since it was filed but NEB’s response had been looked at just five times—all by Byrd, who was crafting the city’s reply.
“That’s very good for us,” Byrd told the council. “We kept anybody from seeing it.”
He said some patients have called the city, worried their health information may have fallen into the wrong hands.
The city intends to mail a notice to all patients whose records were in the response, informing them of what happened, Byrd said.
The city sued NEB Group, alleging Apopka may have lost out on tens of thousands of dollars from patients or their insurers because NEB failed to properly bill, collect and account for payments charged for emergency medical services provided by city fire/EMS crews.
The lawsuit also Orlando, alleges the company wrote off bills as “uncollectible” without much explanation.