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 http://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. http://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.

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