HIPAA requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to adopt national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health plans, and employers. Learn more about HIPAA legal matters, including privacy breaches and keeping medical records confidential.

Affinity Health Plan Settles with Government in Photocopier HIPAA Breach Incident Involving Patient Medical Information

8 Indest-2008-5By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (Affinity), reached a settlement for more than $1.2 million for potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The alleged violations related to a photocopier previously leased by Affinity. The photocopier had an internal hard drive which stored copies of documents, including medical records, which had been photocopied by Afinity. The photocopier was returned to the leasing company and then later purchased from that same company by CBS Evening News. Apparently CBS Evening News then discovered the medical records on the photocopier hard drive.

According to the HHS, Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS OCR on April 15, 2010. This is required under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

To read the entire press release from the HHS, click here.

Affinity is a not-for-profit managed care plan serving the New York metropolitan area.

Alleged Violations Stemmed from Failing to Clear Photocopier Hard Drive.

Affinity was allegedly informed by a representative of CBS Evening News, that as part of an investigation, CBS purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity. CBS allegedly informed Affinity that the photocopier still contained medical information on its hard drive. The OCR estimated that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by the breach. The OCR’s investigation found that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without deleting the data stored on the hard drives.

Affinity Must Try to Retrieve All Hard Drives in Previously Used Photocopiers.

According to HealthIT Security, on top of the $1,215,780 payment, Affinity must also try to recover all its previously used photocopiers that are still in the custody of the leasing company. Affinity must also conduct a risk analysis of its electronic protected health information for security risks and vulnerabilities.

Click here to read the article from HealthIT Security.

Warning to HIPAA Covered Entities Regarding Risk Assessments.

This settlement is an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information. HIPAA covered entities are responsible for making sure all personal information is wiped from the hardware before it is recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent. Entities are also required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have safeguards in place to protect this information.

HIPAA laws have most likely changed since you last edited your privacy forms and procedures. Many health providers simply do not have the time to re-review their policies and revise documents. In a perfect practice, this would be done every six months.

To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Be Sensitive to Technical Equipment Containing Internal Memory.

In today’s technological society everyone must be continually vigilant about the machines and equipment used. Many different types of devices now contain internal memory chips and hard drives that may store data that is difficult to erase. These may include, for example, photocopiers, scanners and fax machines, in addition to computers and servers. Security videos and communications monitoring systems may also maintain such information. Backup tapes and modern cell phones are other possible examples. These should be professionally cleaned of all data or destroyed before discarding them.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think of this settlement? Does your office and/or practice have an annual security risk assessment? Do you think risk analyses are important? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Office of Civil Rights. “HHS Settles with Health Plan in Photocopier Breach Case.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (August 14, 2013). From: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/08/20130814a.html

Ouellette, Patrick. “OCR, Affinity Health Plan Reach HIPAA Violation Agreement.” HealthIT Security. (August 14, 2013). From: http://healthitsecurity.com/2013/08/14/ocr-affinity-health-plan-reach-hipaa-violation-agreement

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Two Laptops Containing Information of 729,000 Patients Stolen from California Hospital Group

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The personal health information of around 729,000 patients has been compromised following the theft of two laptops. The password-protected computers were taken from an administration building of AHMC Healthcare Inc., a hospital group in Alhambra, California. According to the Los Angeles Times, the laptops contain data from patients treated at six different AHMC Healthcare hospitals. Surveillance video shows that the theft occurred on October 12, 2013, but hospital officials did not discover the laptops were missing until two days later.

To read the article from the Los Angeles Times, click here.

Laptops Contain Patient Information, But No Evidence Information Has Been Hacked.

According to the hospital group, the laptops contain data including patients’ names, Medicare/insurance identification numbers, diagnosis/procedure codes, and insurance/patient payment records. Some of the files allegedly contain the Social Security numbers of Medicare patients.

So far, there is no evidence the information has been accessed or used, according to the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. Click here to read the article from the CBS affiliate.

However, given that this just occurred a few days ago, it is probably too early to tell, anyway.

Breach Must Be Reported to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hospitals are required, under federal law, to report potential medical data breaches involving more than 500 people to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR is responsible for investigating all allegation of violations of HIPAA Privacy and Security Regulations.

According to the Los Angeles Times, AHMC Healthcare has already asked for an auditing firm to perform a security risk assessment. Hospital administrators are also expediting a policy to encrypt all laptops.

HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule Effective September 23, 2013–Get a Risk Assessment.

The HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule went into effect on September 23, 2013. By now, hospitals, physicians and all covered entities must comply with the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule. The amendments to the rule are available on the HHS OCR website. I previously wrote a blog series about the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule. Click here for part one, click here for part two and here for part three.

Covered entities should be performing HIPAA risk assessments to identify their security risks and implement protections before a data breach occurs. HIPAA has always required covered entities to perform HIPAA risk assessments. Very often, the first question the OCR asks when investigating a possible HIPAA violation is what risk assessment the health care provider has performed.

The objectives of an adequate HIPAA risk analysis are:

1. Identify the scope of the analysis – the analysis should include all the risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, availability and integrity of all electronic health information regardless of its location.
2. Gather data – the covered entity must identify every location where electronic data is stored.
3. Identify and document potential threats and vulnerabilities – the covered entity should consider natural threats, human threats and environmental threats.
4. Assess current security measures – the covered entity must examine and assess the effectiveness of its current measures.
5. Determine the likelihood of threat occurrence – the covered entity should evaluate each potential threat and prioritize its plan to address each threat.
6. Determine the potential impact of threat occurrence – the covered entity should assess the possible outcomes of each identified threat such as unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.
7. Determine the level of risk – the covered entity should categorize each risk and plan its procedures to mitigate any damage cause by each risk.
8. Identify security measures and finalize documentation – the covered entity should thoroughly document all the steps it used in its risk assessment process.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think if this alleged HIPAA violation? Do you have policies and procedures in place to protect your patients’ right to privacy? Have you received a HIPAA risk assessment lately? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Winton, Richard. “Laptop Thefts Compromise 729,000 Hospital Patient Files.” Los Angeles Times. (October 21, 2013). From: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-hospital-theft-20131022,0,1936078.story#axzz2iRg6Rh3Y

Los Angeles CBS. “Laptops Containing Patient Information Stolen from Alhambra Hospital.” Los Angeles CBS. (October 22, 2013). From: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/10/22/laptops-containing-patient-information-stolen-from-alhambra-hospital/

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Dermatology Practice Settles with Government After Stolen USB Drive Results in HIPAA Breach

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and Adult & Pediatric Dermatology (APDerm), reached a $150,000 settlement for privacy and security violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The alleged violations related to an unencrypted USB drive that was stolen. The thumb drive contained the protected health information (PHI) of around 2,200 patients, according to a press release posted December 26, 2013, on the HHS website.

According to the HHS, this is the first settlement with a covered entity for not having policies and procedures in place to address the breach notification provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

To read the entire press release from the HHS, click here.

APDerm delivers dermatology services to patients in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Alleged Violations Stemmed from Stolen, Unencrypted USB Drive.

According to the HHS, the OCR initiated its investigation after being tipped off that an unencrypted thumb drive containing the PHI of about 2,200 patients was stolen from a vehicle of an APDerm staff member. According to Healthcare IT News the thumb drive was never recovered.

The investigation allegedly revealed that APDerm had not conducted an accurate and thorough analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality of PHI as part of it security management process. It’s also alleged that APDerm failed to fully comply with the HITECH Breach Notification Rule, which requires organizations to have written policies and procedures in place and to train staff members.

According to Healthcare IT News, the settlement also includes a corrective action plan (CAP). The CAP requires the dermatology company to develop a risk analysis and risk management plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities. Click here to read the entire article on Healthcare IT News.

Warning to HIPAA Covered Entities Regarding Risk Assessments.

This settlement is an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information. HIPAA covered entities are responsible for making sure all personal information is protected. Entities are also required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have safeguards in place to protect this information.

HIPAA laws have most likely changed since you last edited your privacy forms and procedures. Many health providers simply do not have the time to re-review their policies and revise documents. In a perfect practice, this would be done every six months.

To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Be Sensitive to Technical Equipment Containing Internal Memory.

In today’s technological society everyone must be continually vigilant about the machines and equipment used. Many different types of devices now contain internal memory chips and hard drives that may store data that is difficult to erase. These may include photocopiers, scanners and fax machines, in addition to computers and servers. Security videos and communications monitoring systems may also maintain such information. Backup tapes and modern cell phones are other possible examples. These should be professionally cleaned of all data or destroyed before discarding them, selling them or trading them in on newer models.

To read a previous blog on Affinity Health Plan settling with government in photocopier HIPAA breach incident, click here.

Practical Tips.

The following are some lessons learned from this case. Share them with others in your organization:

1. Ensure that all types of electronic media by which you transfer patient health information of any kind are encrypted. This includes thumb drives, CD ROMs, DVDs, backup tapes, mini hard drives and anything else.
2. Try not to remove any patient information from your work cite. If you need to work on it remotely, use a secure, encrypted internet connection to access your work data base. Avoid saving the work or data onto your laptop hard drive or other removable media.
3. Never leave your laptop or other media in a car you are having worked on by a mechanic, having an oil change, having the car washed, or while you run into a store. Thieves stake out such locations and are waiting for careless individuals to do this.
4. Never leave your laptop, thumb drive or other electronic media from work in your car. What can be worse than having your car stolen? Having your car stolen with your laptop in it with patient information on it.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think of this settlement? Does your office and/or practice have an annual security risk assessment? Do you think risk analyses are important? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Millard, Mike. “Lost Thumb Drive Leads to $150K Fine.” Healthcare IT News. (December 30, 2013). From: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/lost-thumb-drive-leads-150k-fine

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Dermatology Practice Settles Potential HIPAA Violations.” HHS.gov. (December 26, 2013). From: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/12/20131226a.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Are You Ready for HIPAA and HITECH Audits?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is launching a pilot program this month to make sure covered entities are in compliance with HIPAA privacy and security rules and breach notification standards, according to the OCR. The OCR will perform up to 150 audits to assess HIPAA compliance.

The HITECH Act requires HHS to perform periodic audits to check for HIPAA compliance. The audits will be conducted from November 2011 through December 2012. Initially these audits will likely focus on hospitals and insurance companies, but HMEs could also be a target.

Though early audits are likely to be educational, in order to get a basic assessment of where providers stand in regards to HIPAA, that doesn’t mean there won’t be repercussions for violations. Because the privacy rule has been established since 2001 and the security rule has been established since 2003, providers can not be completely excused for missteps.

HIPAA violations can result in severe penalties (per section 1177 of HIPAA) including:

• a fine of up to $50,000, or up to 1 year in prison, or both; (Class 6 Felony)
• if the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, up to 5 years in prison, or both; (Class 5 Felony)
• if the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine up to $250,000, or up to 10 years in prison, or both. (Class 4 Felony)
• Civil fines can also be imposed by the Secretary of DHHS with a maximum is $100 for each violation, with the total amount not to exceed $25,0000 for all violations of an identical requirement or prohibition during a calendar year. (Class 3 Felony).

Since the final rule for the HITECH Act hasn’t been finalized, the OCR can only expect providers to make decent judgments about the provisions in the interim final rule.

Providers need to review where they’re at with privacy and security compliance and make any improvements. This pilot program of audits will likely be expanded (and the more violations the OCR encounters, the larger the likelihood of strict enforcement), so all providers should be aware of current practices and how to ensure compliance.

For more information about HIPAA and other healthcare audits, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Data Breach at Colorado Hospital Highlights IT Security Risks

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

A small rural hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, has identified a virus on its computer network that had captured and stored screen shots of protected health information in a hidden file system. The hidden folder was created on Sept. 23, 2013, but was not discovered until Jan. 23, 2014. The breach identified at least 5,400 individual patients whose information was compromised.

According to Healthcare IT News, among the stolen data was patient names, addresses, dates of birth, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, credit card information, and admission and discharge dates.

Hospital officials have been unable to determine how the virus was loaded onto the hospital network, according to Healthcare IT News. Consequently, officials believe that there is “very high” probability that the data had been accessed by an outside entity.

To read the entire article from Healthcare IT News, click here.

Take Steps to Secure Your Network.

Breaches of this kind are not solely confined to hospitals and large providers. In fact, it may be that this hospital was targeted because it was a smaller provider in a rural area with easier access to its systems.

Viruses like the one in question could be loaded onto systems as a result of an outside attack (think hackers) or through inside means like a flash drive or deliberately opening an infected e-mail.

It is imperative that a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered entity have an effective cyber security plan. Make sure that you have up-to-date anti-virus software and that your computers are secure from access by unauthorized personnel like cleaning crews or patients and their families. Also, meet with your IT professional to discuss security measures you can put in place such as restricting access and accessibility to certain files or the ability to download programs and applications to essential staff only.

Hacked data represents a growing share of HIPAA breaches. It is imperative that covered entities ensure their compliance with HIPAA to avoid any sanctions by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). To date, the OCR has collected in excess of $18 million in fines and penalties for failures to secure patient information.

Get a Risk Assessment.

A HIPAA Risk Assessment is a thorough review and analysis of areas where you may have risk of violating the HIPAA laws. Federal regulations require that covered entities have this assessment done. When the OCR auditor comes to visit your office to check for HIPAA compliance, they will ask for your Risk Assessment. Do you have one? Does your staff know who your HIPAA compliance officer is? To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs), please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Do you think it is likely that this hospital was targeted because it was a smaller provider in a rural area? Do you think a HIPAA risk assessment could have helped this practice avoid a breach? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Harvey, Nelson. “Hospital Database Hacked, Patient Info Vulnerable.” Aspen Daily News. (March 15, 2014). From: http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/home/161578

McCann, Erin. “Small-Town Hospital Gets Hacked.” Healthcare IT News. (March 17, 2014). From: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/small-town-hospital-gets-hacked

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Alleged HIPAA Privacy Violations at the Center of a Recent Physician Group Settlement with HHS

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A small physician group has reached a settlement with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over alleged Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) violations. The settlement was reached on April 17, 2012 and requires Phoenix Cardiac Surgery (PCS) to pay OCR $100,000 and enter into a one-year corrective action plan (CAP).

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be viewed here.

HIPAA Complaint Against PCS Stemmed from Internet Calendar Postings

OCR’s investigation of PCS was launched in 2009 after a complaint was received. Click here to view a HIPAA complaint that you can file online. The complaint alleged that PSC had disclosed protected health information (PHI) on patients on the Internet. After investigating the complaint, the OCR alleged that PCS violated the HIPAA privacy and security rules. According to the OCR, PCS posted clinical and surgical appointments on a publicly accessible, Internet calendar. The OCR also alleged that PCS employees e-mailed protected health information to their personal e-mail accounts.

Furthermore, PCS allegedly did not have adequate administrative, physical and technical safeguards in place to protect patient data. The OCR alleged that PCS did not appoint a security officer as required by HIPAA or perform an accurate and thorough risk assessment, also required by HIPAA. The CAP required by the settlement will require PCS to implement policies to ensure full compliance with HIPAA’s privacy and security rules.

Are You In Compliance with HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, sometimes referred to as the Kennedy-Kassenbaum Act, was enacted into law as Public Law (P.L.) 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936. Among its many different provisions, it included basic minimums to ensure the privacy of personal medical information. Its main privacy provisions are codified in federal law in different sections of the U.S. Code.

Medical Practices Should Use Caution When Working With Electronic Health Information

This case provides a good example of the downside of information technology (IT). While electronic health information assists in increasing accessibility and efficiency, it can also increase a practice’s risk of violating HIPAA’s Privacy Rule and Security Rule.

All medical practices that utilize electronic health information need to ensure that they have effective IT security, education, policies and procedures in place to protect themselves from HIPAA’s violations.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources Include:

HHS Press Office. “HHS Settles Case with Phoenix Cardiac Surgery for Lack of HIPAA Safeguards.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Apr. 17, 2012). Press Release. From
http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2012pres/04/20120417a.html

Lewis, Nicole. “Online Calendar Mistakes Cost Doctors Group $100,000.” Information Week. (Apr. 23, 2012). From
http://www.informationweek.com/news/healthcare/security-privacy/232900727

Sterling, Robyn. “HHS Settlement for Lack of HIPAA Safeguards.” Proskauer Privacy Law Blog. (Apr. 25, 2012). From
http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=e548966a-d7eb-4f47-a0af-de15db487dbb/

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

By |2012-05-11T14:22:54+00:00June 1st, 2018|HIPAA, The Health Law Firm Blog|0 Comments

HIPAA Fines, Mobile Devices and Risk Assessments: Follow the Steps or Pay the Price

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

Two separate entities have agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) $1,975,220 in fines collectively. The settlements resolve potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security rules involving stolen, unencrypted laptops. These two actions shine a light on the significant risk unencrypted laptops and other mobile devices pose to the security of patient information.

To read the press release from the HHS OCR, published on April 22, 2014, click here.

Concentra Received Risk Assessments, But Did Not Act on Findings.

According to the OCR, an investigation of Concentra Health Services, a subsidiary of Humana, was conducted after a laptop was stolen from a Missouri physician therapy center. This investigation revealed that Concentra had previously received multiple risk analyses that stated the company lacked encryption on its laptops, desktop computers, medical equipment, tablets and other devices containing electronic protected health information. Concentra’s efforts to remedy the risk were incomplete and inconsistent, leaving patients’ health information vulnerable. Concentra agreed to pay $1,725,220 to settle potential security violations and adopt a corrective action plan.

QCA Investigation.

The QCA Health Plan, Inc., investigation began in February 2012, after an unencrypted laptop containing the medical records of 148 individuals was stolen from an employee’s car. The investigation revealed that QCA failed to comply with multiple requirements of the HIPAA privacy and security rules. According to Modern Healthcare, the company is required to pay $250,000, as well as provide HHS with an updated risk analysis and corresponding risk-management plan.

Click here to read the entire article from Modern Healthcare.

Encrypt Laptops and Other Equipment or Pay the Price.

Encryption is one of your best defenses against incidents. These two settlements highlight the need for all entities to encrypt their laptops and other devices. Failing to do so may put that entity at risk for paying a large fine to the OCR and possible fines for state law violations.

HIPAA-covered entities are responsible for making sure all personal information is protected.

The following are some practical tips to use when handling protected health information. Share them with others in your organization:

1. Ensure that all types of electronic media by which you transfer patient health information of any kind are encrypted. This includes thumb drives, CD ROMs, DVDs, backup tapes, mini hard drives and anything else.
2. Try not to remove any patient information from your work site. If you need to work on it remotely, use a secure, encrypted internet connection to access your work database. Avoid saving the work or data onto your laptop hard drive or other removable media.
3. Never leave your laptop or other media in a car you are having worked on by a mechanic, having an oil change, having the car washed, or while you run into a store. Thieves stake out such locations and are waiting for careless individuals to do this.
4. Never leave your laptop, thumb drive or other electronic media from work in your car. What can be worse than having your car stolen? Having your car stolen with your laptop in it with patient information on it.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Are the laptops and other mobile devices at your practice encrypted? Does your practice regularly perform HIPAA risk assessments? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Conn, Joseph. “Unencrypted-Laptop Thefts at Center of Recent HIPAA Settlements.” Modern Healthcare. (April 23, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140423/NEWS/304239945/unencrypted-laptop-thefts-at-center-of-recent-hipaa-settlements

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Press Office. “Stolen Laptops Lead to Important HIPAA Settlements.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (April 22, 2014). From: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/04/20140422b.html

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

OCR Releases Results From First Round of HIPAA Audits

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) has release information on the initial round of mandated audits of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered entities. The OCR announced official details concerning the audits at an OCR and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conference held June 6, 2012.

Initial HIPAA Audits Started November 2011.

As required by the HITECH Act, the OCR began auditing selected covered entities’ compliance with the privacy and security provisions of HIPAA and its implementing regulations in November 2011. The OCR selected 150 covered entities to be audited in the pilot phase by KPMG LLP (KPMG). KPMG is the audit contractor chosen by the OCR to perform HIPAA audits. The first 20 audits concluded in March 2012. More audits will continue to occur this year.

HIPAA Audit Process.

The HIPAA audit process was drafted by the OCR and KPMG in November 2011. Entities selected for an audit receive a notification letter from OCR and are asked to provide documentation to the auditor. Every audit includes a site visit. After the site visit and initial investigation, KPMG recommends suggested modifications for the entity to meet compliance standards in a draft audit report. The entity will have an opportunity to respond to the draft audit report, citing any findings made by KPMG that may be incorrect. KPMG then summarizes final results in a final audit report. The final audit report details how the audit was conducted; what the findings were and; what actions the covered entity is taking in response to those findings.

HIPAA Audit Results.

The results of the initial round of audits revealed that small covered entities had a lot more issues than large ones. Six of the 20 audited entities were small entities (e.g., $50 million or less in revenue). However, these small entities represented 66% of the deficiency findings. Additionally, the OCR reported that health care providers had more problems than plans or clearinghouses. A disproportionate number of the deficiencies were by health care providers. While providers represented 50% of the 20 audited entities, they were responsible for 81% of the deficiency findings.

The OCR also announced that the majority of the findings were related to the Security Rule. OCR indicated that this is partially attributable to more of the audit protocol focusing on security than privacy or breach notification.

To view the OCR’s presentation on HIPAA audit findings, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Audits of Health Providers.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, medical practices, hospitals, and other health providers in audits, including Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and HIPAA audits. The Health Law Firm also assists health providers in establishing compliance with HIPAA regulations. If you have received notification of an impending audit contact The Health Law Firm immediately.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Greene, Adam H. and Rebecca L. Williams. “HIPAA Audits Results Released: We Still Have Work to Do.” JD Supra. (June 13, 2012). From: http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=dca67d93-c84d-4331-a327-fc394407d125

Sanches, Linda. “2012 HIPAA Privacy and Security Audits.” National Institute of Standards and Technology. (June 7, 2012). From: http://csrc.nist.gov/news_events/hiipaa_june2012/day2/day2-2_lsanches_ocr-audit.pdf

Saul, H. Carol. “Update on OCR HIPAA Audits.” Lexology. (May 29, 2012). From: http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=e5a886a7-1d24-4f90-a1a6-6a367e9fc3ba

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

By |2012-06-29T18:09:10+00:00June 1st, 2018|HIPAA, The Health Law Firm Blog|0 Comments

Cyber Attack at Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients-Could This be a New Trend?

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar  in Health Law

On August 18, 2014, Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based hospital chain that has 206 hospitals in 29 states, announced that its computer system was hacked. According to a number of news reports, an outside group of hackers, originating in China, used highly sophisticated malware and technology to steal 4.5 million patients’ non-medical data. The hackers were able to obtain patients’ names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and telephone numbers.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, in Florida, St. Cloud Surgical Associates, St. Cloud Medical Group, and Urology Associates of St. Cloud were among the practices where medical data was stolen. The article did not mention how many patients in Florida were affected. Click here to read the story from the Orlando Sentinel.

How Community Health Systems will Handle Being Hacked.

According to The New York Times, Community Health Systems believes the attacks happened from April to June 2014. The company will be notifying affected patients and agencies under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The hospital system is now working with a security company to investigate the incident and help prevent future attacks. Federal law enforcement agents are also investigating the incident. Click here to read the entire article from The New York Times.

Because this breach affected more than 500 individuals, it will soon be posted on the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Wall of Shame. The law requires that any breach involving 500 or more individuals be publicly posted. To learn more on the Wall of Shame, click here for my previous blog.

Protect Your Practice As Best You Can From Cyber Attacks.

Cyber hacking in the medical community appears to be a crime of opportunity. Quickly there are becoming two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked.

While there is no way to guarantee protection from extrusion and external sources, there are steps that can be taken. For medical practices, many of these are required as part of a HIPAA risk assessment. Some areas to focus on include:

–    Background checks;
–    Comprehensive policies and procedures;
–    Vigilance when it comes to monitoring and data-leakage prevention tools; and
–    Employee education.

Medical practices are going to become bigger targets as the health care industry transitions to electronic health records. In addition, the hacking community is figuring out it is easier to hack a hospital or private practice, than it is a bank and you get the same information. To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Comments?

How do you protect your medical practice from hackers? Do you have regular risk assessments? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Perlroth, Nicole. “Hack of Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients.” The New York Times. (August 18, 2014). From: http://nyti.ms/1pFpujC

Kutscher, Beth. “Chinese Hackers Hit Community Health Systems; Other Vulnerable.” Modern Healthcare. (August 18, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1BxsLqH

Jacobson, Susan. “St. Cloud Medical Patients’ Information Among Millions Stolen in Cyber Attack.” (August 18, 2014). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-hospital-data-breach-st-cloud-20140818,0,3157319.story

Rose, Rachel. “Protecting Your Medical Practices From Cyber Threats.” Physicians Practice. (July 17, 2014). From: http://www.physicianspractice.com/blog/protecting-your-medical-practice-cyberthreats

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Preparing for HIPAA Audits

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has recently released the initial results for the first round of HIPAA audits, as well as the HIPAA audit protocol. Covered entities need to review both the audit results and audit protocol to assist in preparing for the possibility of a HIPAA audit.

Tips to Prepare for a HIPAA Audit.

Although the first round of audits has concluded, HIPAA audits will continue to be conducted through December 2012. Covered entities that avoided the first round of HIPAA audits can learn from the results released by OCR. The OCR is also expected to release an audit protocol which will further assist covered entities in learning how to prepare for a HIPAA audit. The following tips should assist covered entities in preparing for and responding to a HIPAA audit.

To see a previous blog post regarding health care audits, click here.

Before the Audit:

  • All policies and procedures required by the HIPAA Privacy, Breach Notice, and Security Rules should be finalized and regulator-ready.
  • Assign individuals in your organization that can speak to each aspect of HIPAA implementation. Be sure they are aware of questions that may be asked by the OCR concerning compliance.
  • HIPAA’s Security Rule requires that covered entities periodically conduct a risk analysis.  The OCR recently released guidance on conducting such an analysis. This risk analysis guidance can be found here. The results of your risk analysis will likely be among the documents requested for review during an audit.  If you have not conducted a risk analysis in the last year, do so now. Evaluate the results and determine how to handle identified risks. Be sure to carefully document each step of the risk analysis process.
  • Train employees on compliance. Maintain documentation that every relevant employee has been trained.
  • Identify all of your vendors that handle protected health information. Negotiate business associate agreements with all such vendors.

During the Audit:

  • Respond to every notice provided by the OCR in a timely manner. All relevant personnel should receive copies of the OCR’s written notice of its intent to audit.
  • Appropriately respond to the draft audit report with any findings that you believe were unfair or inaccurate before the report is finalized. According to the OCR you should have ten days to respond.

After the Audit:

  • When audit is over, enforce compliance measures suggested by the OCR. To avoid further action taken by the OCR.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Audits of Health Providers.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, medical practices, hospitals, and other health providers in audits, including Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and HIPAA audits. The Health Law Firm also assists health providers in establishing compliance with HIPAA regulations. If you have received notification of an impending audit contact The Health Law Firm immediately.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

By |2012-07-09T13:53:39+00:00June 1st, 2018|HIPAA, The Health Law Firm Blog|0 Comments
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