HIPAA Compliance News

Roger Severino Gives Update on OCR HIPAA Enforcement Priorities

Roger Severino, Director of the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, has given an update on OCR’s HIPAA enforcement priorities at the OCR/NIST 11th Annual HIPAA Conference in Washington D.C.

Severino confirmed that one of OCR’s top policy initiatives is still enforcing the rights of patients under the HIPAA Privacy Rule and ensuring they are given timely access to their health information at a reasonable cost.

Under HIPAA, patients have the right to view and check their medical records and obtain a copy of their health data, yet there are still healthcare organizations that are making this difficult. OCR has already agreed to settle one case this year with a HIPAA-covered entity that failed to provide a patient with a copy of her health information. OCR had to intervene before those records were provided to the patient. The entity in question, Bayfront Health St Petersburg, paid a financial penalty of $85,000 to resolve the HIPAA violation.

More financial penalties will be issued to covered entities that fail to comply with this important provision of HIPAA. Severino confirmed that Bayfront Health’s financial penalty was the first in a series of penalties for covered entities that are not providing patients with access to their health data within 30 days of the request being received.

OCR has issued guidance to help covered entities comply with this aspect of HIPAA, but now the time has come “for serious enforcement,” explained Severino.

Severino also explained that patients must be allowed to have their health data sent to health apps. The requests should only be denied if the app poses a security risk to the covered entity. Severino confirmed a covered entity is not liable for what happens to PHI after a disclosure to a health app at the patient’s request.

In many cases, patients are not being denied access to their medical records and requests for copies of medical records are being honored, but patients are being charged excessive amounts. In 2016, OCR issued guidance on the amounts that healthcare organizations can charge for providing copies of medical records and further clarification was also issued on the fee structures that can be adopted. Financial penalties for overcharging for copies of medical records can be expected.

The crackdown on patient access issues is part of the HHS Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care initiative and fits in with the Trump Administration’s drive to improve transparency of healthcare costs and the reduction of the cost of healthcare in the United States.

A prop is always useful for getting a point across. In this case Severino used a medical boot that he purchased to aid recovery from a torn Achilles tendon. Severino said he was advised by his doctor to purchase the boot and paid his doctor $430 for the treatment aid. He explained that he later looked online and found the exact same boot for sale on Amazon for $70, saying “This boot represents what’s wrong with price transparency.”

OCR is looking at how HIPAA can be updated to address this problem, such as requiring healthcare providers and health plans to provide information about the expected out-of-pocket costs for medical services or equipment before those items or services are provided to patients.

Contractors provide quotes for work in advance and banks provide customers with information on the costs of mortgages before providing the funds, but that doesn’t always happen in healthcare. That is something that needs to change.

Severino also touched on the issue of cybersecurity. Phishing and ransomware attacks cause a high percentage of healthcare data breaches and in many cases the attacks can be prevented by practicing good cybersecurity hygiene.

Ransomware is often installed through the exploitation of vulnerabilities in Remote Desktop Protocol. The failure to address those RDP vulnerabilities has led to several major healthcare ransomware attacks and data breaches.

Phishing attacks have been a major cause of healthcare data breaches for several years. It is not possible to prevent all attacks, but by complying with HIPAA, risk can be significantly reduced. HIPAA calls for covered entities to provide employees with training to help them identify and avoid phishing threats. Severino explained that training is critical, as is conducting phishing simulation exercises to find out how susceptible employees are to phishing.

Other cybersecurity failures that could prevent data breaches include the lack of multi-factor authentication, poor access controls, and the failure to promptly terminate access to systems when employees leave the company.

2019 may have only seen four OCR financial penalties issued to date to resolve HIPAA violations but the year is far from over. Further penalties will be announced this year, including one $2.1 million civil monetary penalty.

Severino did not confirm the reason for the penalty or provide any details, other than saying a final determination has been reached and the penalty will be announced by the department soon.

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Dental Practice Fined $10,000 for PHI Disclosures on Yelp

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has agreed to settle a HIPAA violation case with Elite Dental Associates over the impermissible disclosure of multiple patients’ protected health information (PHI) when responding to patient reviews on the Yelp review website.

Elite Dental Associates is a Dallas, TX-based privately-owned dental practice that provides general, implant and cosmetic dentistry. On June 5, 2016, OCR received a complaint from an Elite patient about a social media HIPAA violation. The patient claimed the dental practice had responded to a review she left on Yelp and publicly disclosed some of the PHI.

When replying to the patient’s June 4, 2016 post, Elite disclosed the patient’s last name along with details of her health condition, treatment plan, insurance, and cost information.

The investigation confirmed that to be the case, but also found it was not the first time that PHI had been disclosed without authorization on the social media platform when responding to patient reviews. Further impermissible PHI disclosures were found on the Elite review page.

In addition to the impermissible disclosures of PHI, which violated 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a), OCR determined Elite had not implemented policies and procedures relating to PHI, in particular the release of PHI on social media and other public platforms, in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.530(i). Elite was also discovered not to have included the minimum required content in its Notice of Privacy Practices as required by the HIPAA Privacy Rule (45 C.F.R. § 164.520(b)).

OCR agreed to a HIPAA violation fine of $10,000 and a corrective action plan (CAP) to resolve the alleged HIPAA violations and settle the case with no admission of liability. The three potential HIPAA violations could have attracted a substantially higher financial penalty; however, when considering an appropriate financial penalty, OCR took the financial position of the practice, its size, and Elite’s cooperation with the OCR investigation into account.

“Social media is not the place for providers to discuss a patient’s care,” said OCR Director, Roger Severino.  “Doctors and dentists must think carefully about patient privacy before responding to online reviews.”

This is the 4th OCR HIPAA settlement of 2019. In September, OCR fined Bayfront Health St Petersburg $85,000 for a HIPAA Right of Access failure. In May, two settlements were agreed to resolve multiple HIPAA violations at Medical Informatics Engineering ($100,000) and Touchstone Medical Imaging ($3,000,000).

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Sen. Rand Paul Introduces National Patient Identifier Repeal Act

Sen. Rand Paul, M.D., (R-Kentucky) has introduced a new bill that attempts to have the national patient identifier provision of HIPAA permanently removed due to privacy concerns over the implementation of such a system.

Today, HIPAA is best known for its healthcare data privacy and security regulations, but the national patient identifier system was proposed in the original HIPAA legislation of 1996 as a measure to facilitate data sharing and help reduce wastage in healthcare.

The provision called for the HHS to “adopt standards providing for a standard unique health identifier for each individual, employer, health plan, and healthcare provider for use in the health care system.” However, in 1998, former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), Sen. Rand Paul’s father, introduced a proposal which called for a ban on funding the development and implementation of such a system. The ban was introduced into the Congressional budget for 1999 and has been written into all Congressional budgets ever since.

This year there was hope that the ban would finally be removed following a June amendment to the House of Representative’s appropriation bill for fiscal year 2020. The amendment received strong bipartisan support and it was hoped that the Senate would follow the House’s lead and have the ban finally lifted. However, on September 18, 2019, the Senate appropriations subcommittee’s proposed budget bill for fiscal year 2020 included the same language as previous years and, as it stands, the ban looks set to remain in place for at least another year.

Sen. Rand Paul’s National Patient Identifier Repeal Act seeks to repeal the HIPAA provision, which Sen Paul believes will place the privacy of Americans at risk. He considers the provision to be dangerous, as it would allow a government-issued ID number to be linked with the private medical histories of every man, woman, and child in America.

It is for the very same reason that dozens of healthcare industry stakeholder groups want the national patient identifier introduced, as without such an identifier, it is difficult to accurately match medical records with the correct patient. Those seeking to have the ban lifted believe it will improve the accuracy of health information exchange and improve security and patient safety.

Sen. Paul disagrees, as he believes the potential privacy risks are too great. “As a physician, I know firsthand how the doctor-patient relationship relies on trust and privacy, which will be thrown into jeopardy by a national patient ID,” explained Sen. Paul. “Considering how unfortunately familiar our world has become with devastating security breaches and the dangers of the growing surveillance state, it is simply unacceptable for government to centralize some of Americans’ most personal information.”

Industry associations such as the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) have stepped up efforts to have the ban lifted due to the difficulties matching medical records with patients.

CHIME CEO, Russ Branzell explained that Congress has already approved a healthcare identifier for Medicare beneficiaries, but a national identifier is also required. “The patient identification conversation is one about saving lives and unlocking the potential for technology to revolutionize healthcare while cutting costs.” He has called Sen. Paul’s views on the national patient identifier “antiquated and from some bygone era.”

While many industry associations share Branzell’s view, Sen. Paul’s bill has received support from certain privacy advocacy groups, including the Citizen’s Council for Health Freedom. Advocates of the removal of the HIPAA provision believes the centralization of patient information would greatly increase the risk of security breaches and could allow hackers to steal individuals’ lifelong healthcare records and such a system would allow unprecedented tracking of Americans through their healthcare records.

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IT Departments Slow to Modify and Block Access Rights When Employees Change Roles or Leave the Company

A recent survey of IT professionals, conducted by IT firm Ivanti, has revealed access rights to digital resources are not always terminated promptly when employees change roles or leave the company. The latter is especially concerning as there is a high risk of data theft and sabotage of company systems by former employees. There have been many reported cases of former employees taking sensitive data to new employers and conducting malicious acts in cases of termination.

The survey was conducted online in the summer of 2019 on 400 individuals, 70% of whom were IT professionals. Questions were asked about setting up permissions for new employees, modifying access rights when roles change, and terminating access rights to company resources when employees are terminated, contracts end, or employees find alternative employment.

The respondents came from a broad range of industries including healthcare. 27% of respondents said they were required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 25% were required to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and 23% had to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

While policies and procedures have been established to cover the entire process, the survey revealed issues onboarding new employees, modifying permissions, and terminating access rights.

85% of employees said they did not have access to all the resources they needed to complete their job duties when they first joined the company. Surveyed IT professionals confirmed that to be the case, with 38% saying it takes an average of 2-4 days to fully onboard new starters and 27% said it takes more than a week.

From a security and compliance perspective, modifying access rights to resources is of far greater importance but even though legislation such as HIPAA calls for prompt changes to be made to prevent unauthorized data access, access right changes are slow to be applied, if they are applied at all.

Only 55% of respondents were confident that access to unnecessary resources was removed when an employee’s role in the organization changed. 26% of IT professionals said it typically takes over a week to fully deprovision employees when they leave the company and only half of surveyed IT professionals were confident that access to critical systems and data had been blocked for the most recent employee to leave the company. When asked if they knew someone who still had access to a former employer’s systems or data, 52% said yes.

The biggest perceived risks of failing to fully deprovision a former employee were sensitive data leakage (38%), cyberattacks through an unmanaged account (26%), and malicious data theft (24%).

When asked about the reasons for the onboarding, amending, and offboarding issues, the main issue was poorly defined processes, cited as a problem by 24% of surveyed IT professionals. 23% said there were issues with automation and 10% said it was due to a lack of resources. More than half of IT professionals (54%) had to make changes manually, 37% used some automation, and just 9% said processes were fully automated and were applied as soon as HR makes a change.

Unless job roles and permissions are well defined and procedures properly documented, issues will occur and without a high degree of automation, there are bound to be delays offboarding employees, even though the delays expose companies to considerable risk and potential fines for noncompliance.

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Senate Fails to Remove Ban on Funding of National Patient Identifier

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is prohibited from using any of its budget to fund the development and implementation of a national patient identifier, but there was hope that the ban would finally be lifted this year.

The House of Representatives added an amendment to its Departments of Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Act of 2020 which removed the ban, which would allow the HHS to follow through on this requirement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

It now looks likely that the ban will remain in place for at least another year as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee’s draft 2020 fiscal budget bill, released last Wednesday, has retained the text banning the HHS from acting on this HIPAA requirement.

The ban has been in place since 1999 and was introduced because of concerns over patient privacy. The ban has been written into the Congressional budget every year since and the proposed 2020 fiscal budget bill is no different.

The proposed fiscal budget bill includes the text, “None of the funds made available in this act may be used to promulgate or adopt any final standard under section 1173(b) of the Social Security Act providing for, or providing for the assignment of, a unique health identifier for an individual (except in an individual’s capacity as an employer or a health care provider), until legislation is enacted specifically approving the 13 standard.”

The purpose of the national patient identifier is to make it easier for patients to be efficiently matched with their health records. Regardless of where a patient receives treatment, their health data will be tied to them through their unique national patient identifier code. The new identifier would help to ensure that patient information could flow freely between different healthcare organizations and it is seen by many healthcare industry stakeholders to be essential for full interoperability. A national patient identifier could help to improve patient privacy, patient safety, and eliminate considerable waste and misspending in healthcare.

For several years, industry associations such as the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), the American Health Information Management Association (AHMIA), and the Health Innovation Alliance (HIA) have been calling for the ban to be lifted.

HIA Executive Director Joel White has called the ban ‘antiquated’ and said studies have suggested that patients are matched with their records as little as 50% of the time. A national patient identifier would instantly solve that problem.

Efforts to have the ban removed have stepped up in recent years, and this year 56 healthcare stakeholder groups urged the Senate to remove the ban. Significant progress was made this year when the amendment receives strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

Convincing the Senate to lift the ban is proving more difficult. As long as privacy concerns remain, the ban is unlikely to be lifted. One of the main issues is a single identifier would be used to tie medical records to an individual from birth until death, and that could allow unprecedented tracking of Americans through their health records. It could also potentially facilitate the sharing, use, and analysis of patient data without patient consent.

While the draft fiscal budget bill has not had the ban removed, it is possible that an amendment could be made at a later date. AHMIA and CHIME leaders remain hopeful that the Senate will follow the House’s lead and have the ban lifted this year.

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Study Reveals Types of Protected Health Information Most Commonly Exposed in Healthcare Data Breaches

Researchers from Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins University have conducted a study of healthcare data breaches over the past 10 years to examine what types of information are most commonly exposed in healthcare data breaches.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday September 23, 2019, confirms that the health information of approximately 169 million Americans was exposed, compromised, or impermissibly disclosed in 1,461 data breaches at 1,388 entities between October 2009 and July 2019. Those breaches each impacted 500 or more individuals and were reportable incidents under HIPAA and the HITECH Act.

The researchers explain that information about the types of information exposed in data breaches is not widely available to the public, since it is not a requirement to share the types of data that have been compromised in the breaches. It is therefore difficult for researchers to classify the amount and types of healthcare information exposed and gain an accurate picture of the consequences of the breaches.

“When the media reports data breaches that occurred to healthcare providers, the headline is always the number of patients affected,” explained John (Xuefeng) Jiang, MSU professor of accounting and information systems at MSU and lead author of the study. “We felt both the regulators and the public didn’t pay enough attention to the type of information compromised in the healthcare data breach.”

Types of Data Exposed in Healthcare Data Breaches

For the study, the researchers categorized healthcare data into three main groups: Demographic information (Names, email addresses, personal identifiers etc.); service and financial information (Payments, payment dates, billing amounts etc.); and Medical information (Diagnosis, treatments, medications etc.)

Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers, payment card information, bank account information, insurance information, and birth dates added to a subcategory of sensitive demographic information. This information could be used by criminals for identity theft, medical identity theft, tax and financial fraud. A subcategory of medical information was also used for particularly sensitive health data such as substance abuse records, HIV status, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health information, and cancer diagnoses, due to the potential implications for patients should that information be exposed or compromised.

Key Findings of the Study

  • 71% of breaches involved either sensitive demographic information or sensitive financial information, which placed 159 million individuals at risk of identity theft or financial fraud
  • 66% of breaches involved sensitive demographic information such as Social Security numbers
  • 65% of the breaches exposed general medical or clinical information
  • 35% of breaches compromised service or financial information
  • 16% of breaches only exposed medical or clinical information without exposing sensitive demographic or financial information
  • 76% of breaches included sensitive service and financial information such as credit card numbers – Those breaches affected 49 million individuals
  • 2% of breaches compromised sensitive health information – Those breaches affected 2.4 million individuals

Jiang believes hackers are not targeting healthcare organizations to gain access to patients’ sensitive medical information, instead healthcare organizations are attacked, and hackers take whatever data they can find in the hope that the information can be monetized. Jiang suggests hospitals and research institutions should store medical information separately from demographic information. Medical information could then be shared between healthcare providers and researchers without greatly increasing risks for patients. A separate system could be used for demographic, financial and billing information, which is needed by hospital administration staff.

The researchers advocate greater focus on the types of information exposed or compromised in healthcare data breaches to help breach victims manage risk more effectively. They suggest the Department of Health and Human Services should formally collect and publish information about the types of data that have been exposed in data breaches to help the public assess the potential for harm. The researchers plan to work closely with lawmakers and the healthcare industry to provide practical guidance and advice based on the results of their academic studies.

Data Breach Notifications Under HIPAA

The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule requires all patients affected by a reportable healthcare data breach to be notified within 60 days of discovery of the breach. Affected individuals must be told what types of information have been exposed or compromised as that information allows breach victims to make a determination about the risk they face so they can make a decision about any actions they need to take to reduce the risk of harm.

OCR explains in its online guidance on breach notification requirements of HIPAA, “These individual notifications must be provided without unreasonable delay and in no case later than 60 days following the discovery of a breach and must include, to the extent possible, a brief description of the breach, a description of the types of information that were involved in the breach, the steps affected individuals should take to protect themselves from potential harm, a brief description of what the covered entity is doing to investigate the breach, mitigate the harm, and prevent further breaches, as well as contact information for the covered entity (or business associate, as applicable).”

Publicly Available HIPAA Breach Information

The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, as required by the HITECH Act, has been publishing summaries of data breaches of 500 or more healthcare records on the HHS website since October 2009. The breach portal, which can be accessed by the public, contains basic information about the breaches.

The breach portal details the name of the breached entity, state, type of covered entity, individuals affected, breach submission date, type of breach, location of breached information, and whether there was business associate involvement. This information can also be downloaded for breaches that are under investigation by OCR and for incidents that have been archived following the closure of the OCR investigation.

When a data breach is archived, further information is added to the breach summary in a “web description” field. The web summary is not available for breaches still under investigation, but the information is included for archived breaches. The web summary is only viewable in the downloaded breach reports.

In many cases, the web description includes details of the types of information that were exposed in the breach, but not in all cases. Formalizing this requirement would ensure that all breaches detailed on the portal would have that information included. The web description field also includes information on any actions taken by OCR in response to the breach that led to the resolution and closure of the investigation.

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August 2019 Healthcare Data Breach Report

In August, healthcare data breaches continued to be reported at a rate of more than 1.5 per day, which is around twice the average monthly breaches in 2018 (29.5 per month). This is the second successive month when breaches have been reported at such an elevated level. While the number of breaches has not changed much since last month (49 compared to 50), there has been a substantial reduction in the number of exposed records.

 

August saw 729,975 healthcare records breached compared to 25,375,729 records in July, 3,452,442 records in June, and 1,988,376 records in May. The exceptionally high breach total for July was mostly due to the massive data breach at American Medical Collection Agency (See below for an update on the AMCA breach total).

Breached Healthcare Records by Year

Causes of August 2019 Healthcare Data Breaches

Hacking and other IT incidents dominated the breach reports in August. 32 breaches were attributed to hacking/IT incidents, which is almost double the number of breaches from all other causes. Hacking/IT incidents breached 602,663 healthcare records – 82.56% of all records breached in August. The average breach size was 18,833 records and the median breach size was 5,248 records.

There were 12 unauthorized access/disclosure incidents reported in August which breached 77,316 healthcare records. Those incidents breached an average of 6,443 records and the mean breach size was 1,281 records.  There were 3 loss incidents and 2 theft incidents. The theft incidents saw 17,650 records potentially compromised and 32,346 records were exposed due to the loss of paperwork or electronic devices. The mean loss breach size was 10,782 records and the mean theft breach size was 8,825 records.

Causes of August 2019 Healthcare Data Breaches

Location of Breached PHI

Phishing continues to pose serious problems for healthcare organizations. Out of the 49 reported breaches, 46.94% – 23 breaches – involved PHI stored in email accounts. The majority of those email breaches were due to phishing attacks.

There were 9 breaches reported that involved PHI stored on network servers, several of which involved ransomware. There were 7 breaches involving paper records/films, highlighting the need for enhanced physical security and administrative controls.

Four breaches involved portable electronic devices such as zip drives and laptop computers. These types of breaches have reduced considerably in recent years largely through the use of encryption, which should be implemented on all portable electronic devices used to store ePHI.

Location of Breached PHI in August 2019 Healthcare Data Breaches

Defending against phishing attacks is a major challenge, and one that can only be solved through layered defenses and staff training. Technological solutions such as spam filters, web filters, firewall rules, multi-factor authentication, and DMARC should be implemented to block phishing attempts, but the sophisticated nature of many phishing campaigns means even layered defenses may be bypassed. End user training is therefore essential. Employees must be trained how to recognize email threats and conditioned how to respond when suspicious emails land in their inboxes.

An annual training session may have been sufficient to provide protection a few years ago, but the increased number of attacks and diverse nature of email threats means a single annual training session is no longer enough. Annual classroom-based training sessions should be augmented with more regular refresher training sessions, cybersecurity bulletins, and email alerts about new threats to watch out for. Phishing simulation exercises are also very beneficial for helping identify individuals who require further training and to find out how effective training has been at reducing susceptibility to phishing attacks.

Largest Healthcare Data Breaches in August 2019

Listed below are the top ten healthcare data breaches reported in August 2019. The largest breach of the month was a phishing attack on Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which saw 183,370 healthcare records breached. The Conway Regional Health System, NorthStar Anesthesia, and Source 1 Healthcare Solutions breaches were also due to phishing attacks.

The Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories breach, which affected 114,985 individuals, the 33,370-record breach at Mount Sinai Hospital, and the 29,644-record breach at Integrated Regional Laboratories were all due to the hacking of business associate AMCA.

The breach at Grays Harbor Community Hospital was due to a ransomware attack and the Renown Health breach was due to the loss of a portable storage device. The cause of the breach at Timothee T. Wilkin, D.O. has not been confirmed.

Name of Covered Entity Covered Entity Type Individuals Affected Type of Breach
Presbyterian Healthcare Services Healthcare Provider 183370 Hacking/IT Incident
Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories Healthcare Provider 114985 Hacking/IT Incident
Grays Harbor Community Hospital Healthcare Provider 88399 Hacking/IT Incident
Conway Regional Health System Healthcare Provider 37000 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Mount Sinai Hospital Healthcare Provider 33730 Hacking/IT Incident
Integrated Regional Laboratories, LLC Healthcare Provider 29644 Hacking/IT Incident
Renown Health Healthcare Provider 27004 Loss
NorthStar Anesthesia, P.A. Healthcare Provider 19807 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Source 1 Healthcare Solutions LLC Business Associate 15450 Hacking/IT Incident
Timothee T. Wilkin, D.O. Healthcare Provider 15113 Hacking/IT Incident

 

August 2019 Healthcare Data Breaches by Covered Entity Type

42 of the month’s 49 data breaches were reported by healthcare providers and three incidents were reported by health plans. Business associates reported 4 breaches and a further 8 incidents had some business associate involvement.

August 2019 Healthcare Data Breaches by Covered Entity Type

August 2019 Healthcare Data Breaches by State

August’s healthcare data breaches affected entities based in 26 states. Texas was the worst affected with 5 reported breaches. 4 breaches were reported by entities based in Washington state, and three breaches were suffered by entities based in Arkansas, New York, and Pennsylvania.

California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin each experienced 2 breaches and one breach was reported by an entity based in each of Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia.

HIPAA Enforcement Activity in August 2019

There were no civil monetary penalties or settlements between the HHS and HIPAA-covered entities/business associates in August, and also no HIPAA-related enforcement activities by state attorneys general.

AMCA Data Breach Update

The AMCA data breach affected at least 24 healthcare organizations, 23 of which have now submitted breach reports to the Department of Health and Human Service’ Office for Civil Rights. The confirmed breach total currently stands at 26,043,743 records with a further 16,100 records expected to be added to that total.  These breaches were mostly reported to OCR in July and August.

Healthcare Organization Confirmed Victim Count
1 Quest Diagnostics/Optum360 11,500,000
2 LabCorp 10,251,784
3 Clinical Pathology Associates 1,733,836
4 Carecentrix 467,621
5      Laboratories/Opko Health 425,749
6 American Esoteric Laboratories 409,789
7 Sunrise Medical Laboratories 401,901
8 Inform Diagnostics 173,617
9 CBLPath Inc. 141,956
10 Laboratory Medicine Consultants 140,590
11 Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories 114,985
12 CompuNet Clinical Laboratories 111,555
13 Austin Pathology Associates 43,676
14 Mount Sinai Hospital 33,730
15 Integrated Regional Laboratories 29,644
16 Penobscot Community Health Center 13,299
17 Pathology Solutions 13,270
18 West Hills Hospital and Medical Center / United WestLabs 10,650
19 Seacoast Pathology, Inc 8,992
20 Arizona Dermatopathology 5,903
21 Laboratory of Dermatology ADX, LLC 4,082
22 Western Pathology Consultants 4,079
23 Natera 3,035
24 South Texas Dermatopathology LLC TBC (Est. 16,100)
Total Records Breached 26,043,743

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Webinar: Social Media and HIPAA Compliance: Protecting Your Practice in the Digital Age

Social media is a potential minefield for HIPAA violations. One impulsive response to an online review could violate the privacy of a patient, breach HIPAA Rules, and leave and the practice at risk of a significant HIPAA violation penalty.

In the digital age, healthcare providers have to deal with a whole new set of privacy concerns. Social media cannot be avoided, so it is important to understand what must be done to protect the business.

“Proactively generating reviews and also responding to them effectively, in a timely manner is essential to marketing your practice. However, without proper precaution, health care providers could face serious privacy breaches and even HIPAA violations,” said Liam.

In the webinar, Liam will explain how healthcare providers can respond to reviews in a manner that minimizes legal risk, while remaining fully compliant with HIPAA regulations.

Register for our upcoming webinar to find out how to manage your online reputation–without risking your practice.

Webinar Details:

Date:    Tuesday, September 17th

Time:    2:00 pm ET/11:00 am PT

Register Here

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OCR Settles First HIPAA Violation Case Under 2019 Right of Access Initiative

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that one of the main areas of HIPAA enforcement in 2019 would be HIPAA right of access failures, including untimely responses to access requests and overcharging for copies of medical records.

The HIPAA right of access allows patients to obtain copies of their medical records on request. HIPAA-covered entities are required to honor those requests and provide patients with access to PHI or copies of health data contained in a ‘designated record set’ within 30 days of the request being received. A covered entity is permitted to charge a reasonable, cost-based fee for providing a copy of the individual’s PHI, which can include the cost of certain labor, supplies and postage.

HIPAA-covered entities that fail to provide copies of records in a reasonable time frame or charge excessive amounts for providing a copy of a patient’s PHI are in violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule – See 45 CFR 164.501. Such violations can attract a sizable financial penalty.

This week, OCR has announced that the first settlement has been reached with a HIPAA-covered entity under the right of access initiative. Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, a 480-bed hospital in St. Petersburg, FL, has agreed to pay OCR $85,000 to settle the case.

OCR launched an investigation into a potential HIPAA violation at Bayfront Health following receipt of a complaint from a patient on August 14, 2018. The patient alleged that she had requested her fetal heart monitor records from Bayfront Health St. Petersburg in October 2017. At the time of the complaint, 9 months after the request was made, she had still not been provided with a full copy of her records.

OCR confirmed that the patient made the request on October 18, 2017 and was informed by Bayfront Health that the records could not be found. Two further requests were sent to Bayfront Health by the patient’s counsel on January 2, 2018 and February 12, 2018. In March 2018, Bayfront Health provided an incomplete set of records and a complete response was only received on August 23, 2018. The patient’s counsel shared the records with the patient, but it took the intervention of OCR for the fetal heart monitor records to be provided to the patient. Those records were provided directly to the patient on February 7, 2019.

OCR determined that the failure to provide access to the patient’s designated record set was a clear violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.524 and that the HIPAA violation warranted a sizable financial penalty.

“Providing patients with their health information not only lowers costs and leads to better health outcomes, it’s the law,” said OCR Director Roger Severino.  “We aim to hold the health care industry accountable for ignoring peoples’ rights to access their medical records and those of their kids.”

In addition to the financial penalty, Bayfront Health has agreed to implement a corrective action plan and will be monitored by OCR for the following 12 months.

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