Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH)

The Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services has announced settlements with three different Boston-area hospitals for allegedly compromising the privacy of protected health information by inviting documentary film crews on premises without first obtaining patient authorization.  The three settlements call for a total of almost $1 million in penalty payments and require each of the hospitals to undertake corrective action.  The corrections are not the same for each hospital and range from workforce education and communication to the establishment of specific procedures, for example, for deciding when to allow media access and for putting safeguards in place to monitor film crew activity. Continue Reading Beware the Bright Lights

A celebrity collapses on stage and is rushed to the hospital. Rumors race through social media faster than the ambulance can navigate city streets. Was it exhaustion? Was it her heart? Was there a gunshot? The press broadcasts through the night outside the ER. You are a hospital administrator who has access to information about the celebrity’s medical condition and treatment. You stay past your shift until the patient’s condition is stable and the 11 p.m. news reports have finished. You exit through a side door to avoid attention, but a man comes up alongside you. You know him from some prior incidents. He is an insurance investigator for the arena where the celebrity was performing. He asks you questions, seeking to confirm facts for a preliminary report he is filing.  All of the facts that he recites about the celebrity’s condition are true. All of them have been widely reported already. You keep quiet.

You have been well trained. That is what you should do. Continue Reading HIPAA: Privacy Required, Even When Information Goes Public

The virtual world offers opportunities and obligations not found in nature.

For a couple of years, my wife has followed the adventures of a bonded eagle couple, Liberty and Freedom, residing in the hills near Hanover, Pennsylvania. A strategically positioned webcam offers a round-the-clock view of nesting activities. Last year the pair hatched two eggs and cared for the eaglets until they fledged.

This year, it appears as if calamity struck. Liberty has disappeared, and a new female, Lucy, has taken her place in the nest, destroying one of the eggs. Although the other egg remains in the nest, it is widely believed that the disturbance has rendered it unviable and that it will not hatch. It is possible that Lucy fought with the older Liberty and killed her.  The body has not been found.  It is also possible that Freedom and Lucy will now bond, but most viewers do not expect them to produce eggs this year.

In the virtual world, health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, and their business associates have a responsibility to protect the treasured asset of individually identifiable information from predators and other dangers. But unlike eggs, which cannot be recovered if stolen or damaged, data is retrievable. Continue Reading Springtime for HIPAA

Filefax, Inc., a health care records moving and storage company that served as a business associate, went into receivership in 2016.  But its receivership did not put an end to an OCR investigation into a HIPAA violation from 2015. Now, the receiver for Filefax has agreed to pay a fine of $100,000 and to properly store, inventory, and dispose of the medical records remaining in its possession under HHS supervision.

The investigation began with a complaint that OCR received about the exposure of a large volume of documents containing protected health information.  The investigation confirmed that an individual had left medical records of approximately 2,150 patients at a shredding and recycling facility and that Fllefax had either left the PHI in an unlocked truck in the Filefax parking lot or granted permission to a person to remove the PHI from Filefax and left the PHI, unsecured, outside the Filefax facility for that person to collect. Continue Reading Closure of Business Does Not Foreclose HIPAA Liabilities

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl aspirations dimmed on a late autumn afternoon when two Ram defenders hammered their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, on a run to the end zone that was called back for a penalty. Wentz stayed in the game and threw a touchdown pass, but soon disappeared into the locker room for the remainder of the game. By mid-week, the medical reports confirmed what most Eagles fans already seemed to know: Wentz had torn ligaments in his knee and was finished for the season.

In the two weeks leading to the Super Bowl, sports media filled time and space with stories about the cut on Tom Brady’s hand and Rob Gronkowski’s expected clearance to play after suffering a concussion.

How, in the world of HIPAA privacy and security was so much medical information available for public consumption? Continue Reading What the Super Bowl Can Teach Us About HIPAA

With the New Year comes new data breach compliance obligations! Two Mid-Atlantic states have cybersecurity related compliance statutes that have – or will soon – take effect. Are you ready?

New Year’s Day ushered into effect the amended Maryland Personal Information Protection Act, which expands the definition of “personal information,” creates a 45-day deadline for providing notice of a breach, allows for substitute service when the breach enables an individual’s e-mail to be accessed, and increases the class of information subject to Maryland’s destruction of records laws. To the customary litany of data elements comprising “personal information,” Maryland has added personal health and health insurance information, biometric data, online account credentials and passport/government ID numbers. The amended data destruction provision now applies to customer and employee/former employee records containing personal information. See our prior alert detailing the amendments here. Continue Reading New 2018 Data Breach Compliance Obligations Begin Going into Effect