Tag Archives: HIPAA compliance

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.

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.

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.

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.

Florida Man Sentenced to Prison for Role in Florida Hospital Data Theft

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

A Davenport, Florida, man was sentenced to four years in prison for paying off two Florida Hospital employees to illegally access patient records, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). A judge sentenced Sergie Kusyakov on April 10, 2013. He was charged with conspiracy and wrongful disclosure of individual identifiable health information.

Click here to read the press release from the DOJ.

Ex-Employees Sold Patient Information to a Co-Conspirator.

Mr. Kusyakov’s sentence stems from a privacy breach at Florida Hospital back in October 2011. The breach involved thousands of patient records that were illegally accessed between 2009 and 2011. Apparently Mr. Kusyakov was paying hospital employee Dale Munroe and his wife to illegally access thousands of records of patients treated at multiple Florida Hospital locations. Mr. Munroe was sentenced in January 2013. Click here to read a previous blog on that story.

Mr. Munroe was allegedly fired in July 2011, after it was learned he accessed the records of a doctor fatally shot in a parking garage. Investigators then found that Mr. Munroe had accessed more than 700,000 patient records, most of whom had been involved in vehicle accidents. Mr. Munroe then sold the records to Mr. Kusyakov, who was associated with two chiropractic clinics. The information was then used to solicit the patients for lawyers and chiropractors. After Mr. Munroe was fired, his wife began stealing patient information. She will be sentenced in July.

HIPAA Privacy Complaints Do Result in Action.

The act of accessing patient records is a direct violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Many individuals whose privacy is breached fail to realize how effective a HIPAA Privacy Complaint can be. These complaints, which can be filed online to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a federal agency, are fully investigated. Stiff civil fines and even criminal prosecutions may result. In serious cases, the FBI investigates them.

Since the time period is short for filing these (180 days), the first step you should take, if your medical privacy is breached, is to file a HIPAA Privacy Complaint with the OCR. Also file a complaint with the hospital or health care provider and with the state agency that licenses the health care provider.

Contact Health Attorneys Experienced in the Confidentiality of Medical Records.

Our attorneys provide advice and legal opinions on confidentiality of medical records and medical information, including HIPAA Privacy Regulation, and are available to testify as expert witnesses on these issues.

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

Comments?

What do you think of Mr. Kusyakov’s sentence? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pavuk, Amy. “Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Role in Florida Hospital Theft.” Orlando Sentinel. (April 11, 2013). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-florida-hospital-patient-data-theft-20130410,0,3261544.story

Department of Justice. “Davenport Man Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison of Theft of Patient Information.” Department of Justice. (April 10, 2013). From: http://www.justice.gov/usao/flm/press/2013/apr/20130410_Kusyakov.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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Health Care Professionals Take Note of the New HIPAA Rules

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

With the popularity of electronic health records (EHRs), social media and everything in between, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released stronger rules and protections governing patient privacy. On January 17, 2013, the HHS announced the omnibus rule to strengthen the privacy and security protection established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

Click here to read the entire 563-page rule.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve read the entire document yet, but I can tell you about the major parts of the omnibus rule, and what it means to you.

It is Your Responsibility to Keep Patient Information Safe.

HHS is expanding the government’s jurisdiction over healthcare providers, health plans and other entities that process health insurance claims to include their contractors and subcontractors with whom providers share protected health information. As the industry embraces new care delivery models, including accountable care organizations (ACOs) and integrated delivery systems, data is exchanged between physicians, hospitals and additional providers to improve care and reduce costs. This all has to be done while keeping patient data safe. According to the HHS, some of the largest breaches involve business associates and not the covered entities themselves.

The government is committed to doing more HIPAA compliance audits and collecting more fines.  The fines the government collects will help to fund the audit process. Because of this rule, we will see audits of business associates and their subcontractors, not just covered entities.

Under the new rule, penalties have been increased for noncompliance based on the level of negligence with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation.

The “Wall of Shame” is a Public Display of Breaches.

The changes also improve the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) breach notification requirements by making it clear when breaches must be reported to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), according to the HHS.

Once reported to the OCR, the breaches are then placed on what is commonly known in the healthcare industry as the “Wall of Shame.” It’s a comprehensive list of privacy breaches each affecting more than 500 people. We’re currently working on a “Wall of Shame” blog, so more on that later.

Patient Demographics and Marketing.

One part of the final rule also sets new regulations for how patient information can be used for marketing and fundraising. It ensures that such information cannot be sold without a patient’s permission. According to an article in Fierce Healthcare, this provision is a huge win for patient advocates and privacy groups who blast hospitals for mining patient data to target affluent or privately insured patients. Hospitals using health and demographic data from patients’ records to target advertising could be in hot water.

Click here to read the entire Fierce Healthcare article.

If Your are Unsure, Get a HIPAA Risk Assessment.

Since the HIPAA laws have changed, you need to edit your privacy forms and procedures. Many health providers simply don’t have the time to re-review their policies and revise documents. 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. A HIPAA risk assessment can significantly reduce, if not entirely eliminate, your exposure to regulatory and litigation sanctions.

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? Call an experienced health law attorney to complete a risk assessment of your practice today. To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here to read a blog we wrote.

Take a Closer Look at Your Privacy Practices.

Healthcare providers, now is the time to revise your Notice of Privacy. The final rule will be effective on March 26, 2013. Covered entities and their business associates will have until September 21, 2013, to comply.

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.

Sound Off.

What do you think about the new HIPAA rules? Do you think these updates were necessary? Do you think it will be difficult for health professionals to comply? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

HHS Press Office. “New Rule Protects Patient Privacy, Secures Health Information.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (January 17, 2013). From: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/01/20130117b.html

Struck, Kathleen. “HIPAA Rules Fortify Patient Privacy.” MedPage Today. (January 21, 2013). From: http://www.medpagetoday.com/PracticeManagement/InformationTechnology/36940

Conn, Joseph. “New Rule: Hospital, Physician Partners Face Penalties for Privacy Leaks.” Modern Healthcare. (January 17, 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20130117/NEWS/301179957/new-rule-hospital-physician-partners-face-penalties-for-privacy&utm_source=home&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=most-popular-box

Caramenico, Alicia. “New HIPAA Rule a Delicate Balance Between Privacy, Sharing.” Fierce Healthcare. (January 18, 2013). From: http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/story/new-hipaa-rule-delicate-balance-between-privacy-sharing/2013-01-18

Authors: 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.

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Ex-Hospital Employee Admits to Stealing and Selling Confidential Patient Information

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

On October 22, 2012, a former Florida Hospital employee admitted to stealing patient information that was used to target customers for lawyers and chiropractors, according to a number of sources. The man allegedly pleaded guilty in Orlando federal court to one count of conspiracy and one count of wrongful disclosure of health information, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). By accessing this information the man violated criminal provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

To read a press release on the guilty plea from the DOJ, click here.

You may remember the news story about a privacy breach at Florida Hospital back in October 2011. The breach involved more than 700,000 patient records that were accessed by the ex-employee between 2009 and 2011. We previously wrote about that story. Click here to read the blog.

Patients Received Calls from Lawyer and Chiropractor Referrals. 

Federal investigators said the ex-hospital worker was looking specifically for information on car accident victims. He would allegedly sell that information to co-conspirators.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) affidavit, some patients would receive calls offering lawyer or chiropractor referrals about a week after their hospital visit.

The FBI also allegedly found payments from co-conspirators to the former hospital employee.

To read the FBI affidavit, click here.

Will the Ex-Employee Get Prison Time?

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the ex-Florida Hospital worker faces up to 15 years in federal prison for these criminal charges.

Click here to read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel.

The man will be sentenced on January 14, 2013. Be sure to check our blog for updates to this story.

Be Sure to Get a HIPAA Risk Assessment to Avoid Violations.

As a health provider you know that you must safeguard and protect confidential patient medical information to avoid civil and criminal penalties against you and your practice. A HIPAA Risk Assessment is a thorough review and analysis of areas where you may have risk of violating the HIPAA laws. We recently wrote a blog on this subject, click here to view it.

HIPAA Privacy Complaints Are Effective.

Many individuals whose privacy is breached fail to realize how effective a HIPAA Privacy Complaint can be. These complaints, which can be filed online to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), are fully investigated. Stiff civil fines and even criminal prosecutions may result.

Since the time period is short for filing these (180 days), the first step you should take, if your medical privacy is breached, should be to file a HIPAA Privacy Complaint.

Contact Health Attorneys Experienced in the Confidentiality of Medical Records.

Our attorneys provide advice and legal opinions on confidentiality of medical records and medical information, including HIPAA Privacy Regulation, and are available to testify as expert witnesses on these issues.

For a list of applicable Federal and Florida legal authorities on “super-confidential” medical information such as mental health, HIV and drug or alcohol treatment records click here.

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

Comments?

Have you been following this story? Do you think the ex-hospital employee should receive the maximum sentence? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pavuk, Amy. “Ex-Hospital Employee Pleads Guilty to Stealing Patient Information.” Orlando Sentinel. (October 22, 2012). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-florida-hospital-patient-records-arrest-20121022,0,5057291.story

Department of Justice. “Former Florida Hospital Employee Pleads Guilty To Data Theft.” DOJ. (October 22, 2012). Press Release From: ttp://www.justice.gov/usao/flm/press/2012/oct/20121022_Munroe.html

About the Authors: 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.

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.

Sarasota Sheriff Wants Patients to Waive HIPAA Privacy Rights

By Danielle M. Murray, J.D.

Law enforcement has been working hard to bust pill mills and stop prescription drug abuse. Pharmacists and pain management doctors are under intense scrutiny by various law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Health (DOH), for their role in giving out controlled substances.

“Doctor shopping” is a common phrase used to describe patients who see multiple doctors in a short period of time in an attempt to dupe doctors into giving them prescriptions for controlled substances. Doctors have been hampered somewhat by HIPAA privacy laws and have been unable to report suspicious patients to law enforcement agencies.

Sarasota County has a solution for that. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the county has devised a form, entitled “Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information,” and distributed it to pain management physicians. This form is to be signed voluntarily by patients and would allow doctors to discuss concerns with law enforcement. According to the sheriff’s office, the form intended to be limited to the patient’s name and the doctor’s concerns, and not to allow the release of medical records or other protected information.

To see the form for yourself, click here.

Physicians Not In Favor of the Form.

Critics say that the form is a blatant violation of patient rights and is simply a way for law enforcement to get around constitutional protections, such as search warrants.

It appears that some physicians agree with the critics. Not a single waiver has been returned to the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office.

In a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article, a pain management clinic owner states that his clients sign a contract that waives their rights if the clinic is approached by an investigator. He states “I understand HIPAA and am a firm believer in their rights, but if they’re doing something illegal, they’re jeopardizing my license.”

To see the full article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, click here.

Providers are at Risk.

The clinic owner is correct. Providers are at risk for their patients’ inappropriate prescription use. We have seen cases where providers are faced with criminal and civil liability when a patient overdoses on medication, whether intentional or not.

Click here to read a previous blog post on one Florida doctor who gave up his license due to allegations of malpractice and overprescribing pills.

In Orlando, Florida, a drug trafficking ring used fake prescriptions to access drugs at pharmacies around the city, and the responsible pharmacists are now facing disciplinary action for filling those prescriptions. There is a major crackdown underway to stop pill mills.

Recently the Polk County Sheriff’s Office issued 25 arrest warrants in connections to a pill mill investigation (click here to read the blog on this story). The big pharmacy chains are getting hit as well. A Walgreens distribution center in Florida was recently served with an immediate suspension order from the DEA (click here for that blog), and the DEA also pulled the controlled substance licenses from two Central Florida CVS Pharmacies (click here to read more).

Do Not Violate HIPAA.

Providers must be careful not to violate HIPAA. HIPAA violations may also result in administrative and civil action against you and your license, especially if the patient can prove they were damaged by the leak. A patient who was arrested due to the provider’s HIPAA violation would likely be able to show damages and cause action against the provider’s license.

You can read more on HIPPA violations on our two-part blog series. Click here to read part one and click here to read part two.

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 the “Authorization of Release of Protected Health Information” form? Do you think it goes too far? Please submit any thoughtful comments below.

Source:

Williams, Lee. “Sheriff wants doctors to have patients sign away rights.”  Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (October 1, 2012). From: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20121001/ARTICLE/121009975/2416/NEWS?p=all&tc=pgall 

About the Author: Danielle M. Murray 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 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.

Patients Like to Read Doctors’ Notes Online

By Danielle M. Murray, J.D.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that patients like to read their doctors’ notes.  In the study, published in April of 2012, doctors put their notes online, and gave patients online access to the file.  While some patients had privacy concerns, ninety-nine percent (99%) of them requested to keep access to the file after the study was over.

To read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel, click here.

Doctors Did Not Feel Overwhelmed by Having to Put Notes in Computer.

Patients interviewed for the study felt that the notes reiterated important points that they had discussed with their doctors.  Study participants were able to be reminded of key information, and many said they felt that they were more compliant with the doctors’ recommendations.

Doctors didn’t report feeling limited or overwhelmed by having to take notes in the computer system used for the study, and they continued to allow access to the notes following the study.

Non-Electronic Options for Doctors’ Offices.

If a doctor does not feel comfortable using an online system, or simply does not have the time or money to convert to an electronic system, the article suggests that doctors can simply add a new procedure to their current, handwritten record-keeping system.  Doctors can have staff routinely make a copy of the patient’s notes and mail the notes, or have the notes picked up by the patient, within a set time after the visit.

Keep in Mind Your Responsibilities as A Doctor.

As a health attorney advising physicians, medical groups and medical facilities, I have to look at the legal risks of such arrangements.

While putting records online or even creating an app for patients to access records is convenient, such an arrangement can inadvertently allow the records to fall into the hands of third parties.  I don’t know of many doctors’ offices with in-house staff to manage their document server and online secure servers for such an undertaking.  Even so, streamlining the process generally requires special software, which was created by and likely monitored by a third-party software developer.

I would first suggest that any health professional looking to digitize or allow remote access to records have a contract ready for their technology associate to sign.  The contract should clearly state the obligations of each party, and it should incorporate all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security responsibilities.  I would not suggest piecing something like this together on your own; seek counsel, such as experienced health law attorneys, to do this for you.

If you are unsure about HIPAA privacy rights, click here for part one and click here for part two of a blog series on possible violations.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, health facilities and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, OCR HIPAA audits, breach of privacy investigations, HIPAA risk assessments, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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

Comments?

As a health professional, do you make notes available to your patients? Does putting such notes online worry you? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Source:

Pittman, Genevra. “Patients Like Reading Their Doctors’ Notes: Study.” Orlando Sentinel. (October 1, 2012). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/health/sns-rt-us-patients-like-reading-their-doctors-notes-stbre-20121001,0,925182.story

About the Author: Danielle M. Murray 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

 
“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.