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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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