HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices
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HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices
HIPAA Compliance and HIPAA Risk management Articles, Tips and Updates for Medical Practices and Physicians
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Legislation Changes and New HIPAA Regulations

Legislation Changes and New HIPAA Regulations | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The policy of two out for every new regulation introduced means there are likely to be few, if any, new HIPAA regulations in 2018. However, that does not mean it will be all quiet on the HIPAA front. HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) director Roger Severino has indicated there are some HIPAA changes under consideration.

 

OCR is planning on removing some of the outdated and labor-intensive elements of HIPAA that provide little benefit to patients, although before HIPAA changes are made, OCR will seek feedback from healthcare industry stakeholders.

 

As with previous updates, OCR will submit notices of proposed rulemaking and will seek comment on the proposed changes. Those comments will be carefully considered before any HIPAA changes are made.

 

The full list of proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule have not been made public, although Severino did provide some insight into what can be expected in 2018 at a recent HIPAA summit in Virginia.

 

Severino explained there were three possible changes to HIPAA regulations in 2018, the first relates to enforcement of HIPAA Rules by OCR.

 

Since the introduction of the Enforcement Rule, OCR has had the power to financially penalize HIPAA covered entities that are discovered to have violated HIPAA Rules or not put sufficient effort into compliance. Since the incorporation of HITECH Act into HIPAA in 2009, OCR has been permitted to retain a proportion of the settlements and CMPs it collects through its enforcement actions. Those funds are used, in part, to cover the cost of future enforcement actions and to provide restitution to victims. To date, OCR has not done the latter.

 

OCR is considering requesting information on how a proportion of the settlements and civil monetary penalties it collects can be directed to the victims of healthcare data breaches and HIPAA violations.

 

One area of bureaucracy that OCR is considering changing is the requirement for covered entities to retain signed forms from patients confirming they have received a copy of the covered entity’s notice of privacy practices. In many cases, the forms are signed by patients who just want to see a doctor. The forms are not actually read.

 

One potential change is to remove the requirement to obtain and store signed forms and instead to inform patients of privacy practices via a notice in a prominent place within the covered entity’s facilities.

 

Severino also said OCR is considering changing HIPAA regulations in 2018 relating to good faith disclosures of PHI. OCR is considering formally clarifying that disclosing PHI in certain circumstances is permitted without first obtaining consent from patients – The sharing of PHI with family members and close friends when a patient is incapacitated or in cases of opioid drug abuse for instance.

 

While HIPAA does permit healthcare providers to disclose PHI when a patient is in imminent harm, further rulemaking is required to cover good faith disclosures.

 

While these HIPAA changes are being considered, it could take until 2019 before they are implemented.

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Texas Expands HIPAA Privacy Laws to Bolster EHR Security

Texas Expands HIPAA Privacy Laws to Bolster EHR Security | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has signed a new law to give Texas residents even greater protection than required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and has increased penalties for healthcare organizations that fail to implement the appropriate security measures to protect the health data of patients.

 

Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), covered entities have a number of responsibilities including reporting data breaches to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Data breaches are reportable to the OCR, either in an end of year report or after an investigation, depending on the number of individuals affected.

 

HIPAA places a number of restrictions on how ePHI is used and stored, and all covered entities are required to conduct a full risk analysis to assess systems for security vulnerabilities to allow risk to be managed. It also lays down the procedures that must be followed after a data breach, such as notifying potential victims. Covered organizations are also required to conduct an investigation into how a breach occurred as well as a risk of harm analysis.

 

One of the main aims of HIPAA has been to improve the standard of data security and protect the privacy of patients. HIPAA and HITECH can be seen as minimum standards that must be followed, and states are allowed to increase data security rules, provided that all HIPAA requirements are met.

 

Texas has now exercised the right to tighten state privacy laws to ensure electronic Protected Health Information is kept private and confidential.

 

Greater Protection for Texas Residents
The new Texas law follows HITECH, although it makes a number of amendments to further restrict the use of ePHI. The penalties have been increased for wrongful disclosure, breach notifications have been updated and healthcare organizations must provide more training to staff. A new requirement is that data privacy and security training must now be provided to employees every two years. Training courses must be documented and all attendees must sign to confirm that they have received training. A 60-day time restriction has also now applies for providing new employees with training.

 

According to the new law, “an individual’s PHI may not be disclosed without the patient’s authorization, except for purposes of treatment, payment, healthcare operations, insurance purposes, and as otherwise authorized by state or federal law”

 

Harsher Penalties for Wrongful Disclosure of ePHI
Failure to comply with the new legislation will result in increased financial penalties and possibly criminal penalties – the theft of ePHI is now considered a felony – being applied for the wrongful disclosure of ePHI. The state is also able to revoke both professional and institutional licenses. Financial penalties have been increased to a maximum of $250,000 for intentional disclosure of ePHI for financial gain, $25,000 for intentional or knowing violation and $5,000 for each individual negligent violation, although the maximum penalty for repeat offenders is $1.5 million and enforced withdrawal from Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other state funded healthcare initiatives is also a possibility.

 

When assessing violations, the seriousness of the data breach will be considered along with significant risk of harm, past history of the organization, certification, the efforts made to mitigate any damage caused and the amount necessary to deter the organization from allowing further violations to occur. Failure to issue breach notifications to affected individuals will also be penalized at a rate of $100 per day, per individual, up to a maximum fine of $250,000.

 

HIPAA regulations require employers to provide training on data Privacy and Security Rules, although this is only required within a short time frame of the commencement of employment and after a material change in Privacy and security policies. Under the new Texas law there is a requirement for ongoing training to be provided to staff and this must also be tailored to the employee’s position within the company. Rules have also changed on breach notifications to include all HIPAA covered entities including business associates, as well as non HIPAA-covered entities that wrongfully disclose ePHI.

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8 Ways HIPAA Compliant Cloud Phone Systems Help Healthcare

8 Ways HIPAA Compliant Cloud Phone Systems Help Healthcare | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

If you work in a pharmacy, insurance company, hospital, or any kind of healthcare practice, you know about HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996obligates all healthcare providers or payers to safeguard the privacy and integrity of the personal health information, or PHI, of patients. You also know that it's about much more than securing digital data files: It's what obligates the pharmacy technician to ask customers in line to step back from the pickup counter; it's what requires hard copy patient records to be kept out of reach of unauthorized personnel.

 

Also under HIPAA's umbrella? Telephone usage.

As with oral or written information, compliance in digital voice and video is achieved through a combination of technology tools and proper practices. When you store it, (think voicemails, recorded calls) digital voice puts the "e" in ePHI (electronic personal health information) where HIPAA's more stringent security (as opposed to privacy) rules apply. Here, it's important not just to keep patient information from unauthorized persons; it's important to ensure such data is locked down or encrypted in such a way that it can't be accessed or changed.

It's no small chore to establish HIPAA compliance; that's why few hosted VoIP providers have performed the required policy and procedure improvements, documentation, employee training, ongoing monitoring, and physical security audits. Some, however—including OnSIP—have taken this step. By being certified to sign the Business Associate Agreements that HIPAA requires, providers assure customers that they take on responsibility for compliance as regards their voice and video platform. In the process, they extend to healthcare the considerable benefits of cloud communications that non-regulated industries have enjoyed for years.

 

Here are eight examples of how a healthcare practice can benefit from an HIPAA-compliant cloud phone system:

1. Share phone numbers, recordings, menus, and more across multiple locations.

Cloud communications can bring multiple sites under one shared administrative account. This not only saves money previously spent on individual phone lines, but also lets users dial any phone as a in-network extension, with call handling functions such as hold and transfer. OnSIP's network-wide encryption ensures that such calls cannot be tapped at any point on the IP network. (For a good example of how this works, see how Open Arms Treatment Center unified multiple office locations.)

2. Pool personnel across multiple locations to reduce calls on hold and provide foreign language assistance.

With system-wide call queuing, multi-site practices or insurance companies can pool office staff in every location to answer all incoming calls to a main number, reducing patient wait times. If they want to respond even faster, they can even recruit home-based workers. These remote staff can use personal computers or phones as extensions on the network. Organizations can also leverage, for example, the Spanish-speaking staffer in one location to handle Spanish-speaking callers to all other sites.

3. Provide staff with EHRs and patient information from PMS apps upon incoming calls.

Just as cloud phone systems are easily integrated with business CRM software to pop customer information on customer service agent screens, an integration with a PMS can pop patient info, saving office staff time in making appointments or handling insurance claims. Such integrations also makes it easier to dial out to patients, by enabling click-to-dial functionality on a computer. It further helps ensure that patients are reached through the numbers they requested to receive calls—as required by HIPAA—since it is easy to embed those clickable numbers prominently on their records.

4. Make and receive calls with professional caller ID from any phone or location.

Many cloud phone system providers offer softphone applications that run on a computer or smartphone. These apps allow users to access the phone system remotely, so doctors can answer work calls and view inbound caller ID information, no matter where they are. They can also easily transfer calls colleagues. When they need to make a work call, their outbound caller ID will display the office phone number, a favorite feature for on-call staff who may be away from the practice and carry only their personal phone.

5. See who's available across the organization to receive transferred calls.

With a clear view of coworkers' availability—available on some services—users can avoid transferring patients' calls to unattended extensions or voicemail, averting frustration. When staff are there to answer, patients can be transferred from lab results to follow-up scheduling or refill requests, accomplishing more with each call.

6. Video calling can extend physician reach to underserved areas and workplaces.

While patients are by now well acquainted with video calling, the Skype and Facetime appsthey use are not HIPAA compliant. If a HIPAA-certified cloud phone service includes video calling, practitioners can leverage this richer medium for better informed (and more billable) consultations. These calls can support technician-assisted telehealth visits and remote medical device readings, extending clinicians’ reach into underserved areas. Technician-assisted medical kiosks, equipped with video calling and devices such as digital stethoscopes and blood-pressure monitors, have been installed in workplaces to encourage employees to take better care of their health.

7. Video calling aids and encourages use of online patient portals.

Since voice and video sessions can be provided through a web browser, video chat can be embedded in an online patient portal. Being able to see the medical assistant, say, answering questions, may encourage more patients to sign up for these increasingly popular portals. By logging into a secure website, patients can access personal information as well as view lab results, send secure messages to doctors, track immunization records, and schedule appointments.

8. Easily retrieve voicemails and other call recordings attached to EHRs and PMRs.

Many hosted VoIP services offer call recording, which is gaining use in healthcare settingsfor a variety of reasons, from documenting remote visits, to training employees, to protection from spurious malpractice suits. As a digital file containing individually identifiable health info, these recordings require encryption in transit and at rest. With a HIPAA-certified cloud service and proper policy enforcement, these recordings can be securely shared among other members of the practice group, or attached to a patient record in a similarly secured practice management or EHR system.

 

At the end of the day, healthcare organizations must recognize that HIPAA compliance is only one part technology. Policy establishment and documentation, training, and enforcement make up the other parts. Oral, paper, and digital media, storage strategy and messaging must be thoroughly considered.

 

If you’re considering a cloud phone system for your office or practice, a good place to start is by reviewing HIPAA’s privacy and security rules. Since at least 11 states add more stringent patient protections to the ones imposed federally, their rules must be reviewed as well. For this, we recommend Health Information & the Law, a project of the George Washington University's Hirsh Health Law and Policy Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. If you provide medical care, you should consult a lawyer familiar with your state’s health privacy laws. Finally, you should also commission a third-party auditor to determine what parts you may be missing before implementing a cloud-based communications solution.

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Fax Sent to Wrong Number Results in HIPAA Violation

Fax Sent to Wrong Number Results in HIPAA Violation | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

One morning, the office manager got a call from one of the practice's patients, Mr. M, a 52-year-old, HIV-positive man who had been seeing Dr. G for a decade. Although he was happy with the treatment he had been receiving, Mr. M's company was promoting him and he was relocating to another town. He called to ask Dr. G to fax his medical records to his new urologist.

 

The office manager was juggling numerous tasks, but managed to send the fax out later that day. The office did not have personalized fax cover sheets, just sheets that the office manager printed off once a week which had spaces to fill in the “to” and “from” sections. She hurriedly filled them in and shot off the fax, one of several she had to do before checking in the next patient.

 

At the end of the day she told Dr. G that it had been done. He thought nothing of it until the following Monday when the office manager came into the back office to speak to him. She was pale and looked shaken, and the physician immediately asked if she was okay.

 

“It's Mr. M,” the office manager said. “He just called – absolutely furious. He says that we faxed his medical records to his employer rather than his new doctor, and that now his company is aware of his HIV status. He is extremely upset.”

 

“I'm so sorry,” the office manager said tearfully. “I was the one who sent that fax out. I must have accidentally grabbed the wrong number from his file. What should we do?” She looked at Dr. G for guidance.

 

Dr. G was holding his forehead, and trying to figure out how to remedy the situation. “The first thing we're going to do is to call Mr. M and apologize. Then we'll take it from there.”

 

The office manager and Dr. G called Mr. M and apologized profusely for the mix-up. Mr. M understood that it had not been done maliciously, but he was still not satisfied and reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

 

An initial investigation indicated that the incident was not criminal and so it was not referred to the Department of Justice.

 

Rather, it was handled by the OCR. OCR officials appeared at Dr. G's office to look into the matter, and after a thorough investigation, the OCR issued a letter of warning to the office manager, referred the office staff for HIPAA privacy training, and had the office revise the fax cover sheets to underscore that they contain a confidential communication for the intended recipient only.

 

Legal Background
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, protects personally identifiable health information of patients, and specifies to providers how such information may be used. HIPAA has been in effect for about a decade, and in that time, the HHS has received a total of almost 80,000 complaints.

 

Of those, more than 44,000 were dismissed, 19,000 were investigated and resolved with changes to privacy practice, and 9,000 were investigated but no violations were found. According to HHS, private medical practices were the ones most often required to take corrective action as a result of enforcement.

 

The top two compliance issues most frequently investigated are impermissible use and disclosure of protected health information and lack of safeguards for protected health information.

 

When a HIPAA complaint is filed with the HHS, the first determination made is whether there was a possible privacy violation and whether it was of a criminal nature. If it was determined to be criminal, the case is referred to the Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution.

 

If it was determined that it was not a criminal issue (as in this case) the violation is investigated by the OCR. If it is determined that a HIPAA violation did, in fact, take place, the OCR can either obtain voluntary compliance, corrective action or some other voluntary agreement with the offender, or the OCR can issue a formal finding of violation and force the offender to change its practices.

 

In this particular case, the office manager and Dr. G recognized the mistake and immediately tried to take corrective action by apologizing to the patient. Dr. G's office also voluntarily agreed to extra compliance training for the staff and to a change in their faxing procedures to indicate that the faxed materials are confidential.

 

Protecting Yourself
This particular scenario was the result of a careless error. While a careless error can happen to anyone, one such as this could cause irreparable harm to the patient if his employer now views or treats him differently because of the new knowledge of his HIV-positive status.

 

Confidential patient records must be treated with the greatest of care as they contain information of an extremely personal nature. Many HIPAA cases have involved the unintentional divulging of the HIV or AIDS status of a patient.

 

In a similar case, a dental practice was reported for using red stickers and the word AIDS on the outside of patient folders. And in a case that took place in a hospital, a nurse and orderly lost their jobs for discussing a patient's HIV status within earshot of other patients.

 

A good rule of thumb is to treat a patient's confidential information as you would want yours to be treated, and then add a little extra security for good measure.

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Few Things Physicians are Not Doing to Comply with HIPAA.

Few Things Physicians are Not Doing to Comply with HIPAA. | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Shortly after the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was implemented, David Zetter was at a doctor's office helping the group build a compliance plan. He was in the back of the practice training some of the staff when the receptionist walked in and handed him a piece of paper.

 

The note was from a patient saying she could see everyone's names and files at the front desk and she knew that was a HIPAA violation.

 

More than a decade later, HIPAA compliance has become ingrained: Files are not left out in the open, patient information is not improperly disclosed, and doctors do not leave health-related messages on answering machines. It is routine to have every patient sign a HIPAA release and go about your business.

 

But compliance is not a one-and-done activity as much as an evolution of rules and procedures. Compliance gurus bet there are at least a few things physicians are not doing to comply with HIPAA.

 

Make a plan
One main thing that practices should have is a compliance plan, but many do not, said Zetter, founder of Zetter Healthcare Management Consultants. “They buy a cheap manual off of the internet and think that works,” he said. “But it cannot be implemented that way; it wasn't set up for your practice.”

 

Even state medical societies sell how-to manuals, but Zetter said this is only a document meant to guide you through creating a compliance plan, not the plan itself.

 

Sample HIPAA compliance plans and instructions for completing one can be found online. The Massachusetts Medical Society provides a document with a checklist and tips to help doctors develop their own documents.

 

Analyzing compliance
The second thing that needs to be completed is a gap analysis. These are used to determine what the organization is doing and what they should be doing. Zetter said an office needs to take each section of the regulation, see what is required and compare it with what is being done. Detailed information on creating a gap analysis can be found at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Website.

 

Once gaps are identified, it is important to find ways to mitigate the potential problem areas. Physicians can do this by performing a risk analysis, which provides the basis for developing ways to cover themselves if an information breach should occur.

 

A risk analysis can arrive at whether there is a low, medium, or high risk of a HIPAA violation occurring, Zetter said. The greater the risk, the more resources are needed for prevention. All of this should be documented.

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Staff Nurse Faces Jail Time for HIPAA Violations

Staff Nurse Faces Jail Time for HIPAA Violations | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Her breach of a patient's privacy jeopardized the clinic from which she was subsequently fired.

 

What began as routine file maintenance ended in arrest and possible jail time for a licensed practical nurse who shared a patient's medical information with her spouse.

 

Ms. A, 29, had been employed by a midsize regional clinic for five years. While she enjoyed her job and got on well with her supervisor, Dr. P, she was known to bemoan what she saw as low pay and the financial strain it created for herself and her husband. That strain intensified when her husband was in an auto accident and then sued by people in the other car seeking compensation for their injuries.

 

One day, as Ms. A was flipping through charts to straighten up the files, she saw the plaintiff's name. Reading the chart with great interest, she jotted some notes, stuck them in her bag, and replaced the file. That night, as her husband complained about the impending lawsuit and its potential financial consequences, Ms. A smiled and reached into her bag for the notes she'd taken earlier. “I think this will help,” she said.

 

The next day, Mr. A phoned the patient. During the conversation, he made it known that he had medical information which he believed weakened the man's case. Mr. A suggested that he consider dropping the lawsuit.

 

After hanging up with Mr. A, the patient made two phone calls. First he called the clinic where Ms. A worked. Then he called the district attorney.

 

The next morning, Ms. A was summarily fired. “You may very well have put this whole clinic in jeopardy,” Dr. P told her.

 

After Ms. A left the building, Dr. P called a meeting of all the nurses, physician assistants, and support staff and explained why Ms. A had been fired. Outlining the laws on patient privacy, he informed them that no breach of these laws would be tolerated under any circumstances.

 

Meanwhile, Ms. A's problems were just beginning. The district attorney forwarded the patient's complaint to a federal prosecutor, and within a month, both Ms. A and her husband were indicted. Ms. A was charged with violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and with “conspiracy to wrongfully disclose individual health information for personal gain with maliciously harmful intent in a personal dispute.” Her husband was charged with witness tampering. The couple hired a criminal defense attorney, who negotiated a plea agreement with the federal prosecutor. Ms. A pleaded guilty to one count of wrongful disclosure of individual health information for personal gain. In exchange for her plea, the charges against her husband were dismissed.

 

Ms. A is awaiting sentencing. She faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of as much as $250,000, and up to three years of supervised probation. The state nursing board is seeking to revoke her license.

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Massachusetts Physician Guilty in HIPAA Case

Massachusetts Physician Guilty in HIPAA Case | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Recently, a gynecologist was sentenced to 1 year of probation for violating HIPAA laws and obstructing an investigation into a federal health care probe.

 

Rita Luthra, MD, who treated women in a low-income area of Springfield, Massachusetts, was convicted this past April of allowing a pharmaceutical representative from Warner Chilcott improper access to patient records. While the case is unique—providers have rarely been charged criminally under HIPAA—it is a cautionary tale about the potential implications for improper disclosure.

 

Federal charges
Dr Luthra's conviction stemmed from a larger Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into Warner Chilcott's practices. The pharmaceutical company, which was purchased in 2015 by Allergan plc, was investigated on allegations of paying kickbacks to physicians to entice them to prescribe its medications to patients; false marketing for Actonel, a drug prescribed for treatment of osteoporosis; and manipulating prior authorizations for its other osteoporosis drug, Atelvia.

 

The DOJ reached a $125 million settlement with the company in 2015. Dr Luthra was found to be one of the physicians accused of taking part in Warner Chilcott's practices. She was originally brought up on kickback charges, with investigators claiming she received more than $23,000 for prescribing their osteoporosis medication. They claimed she was paid approximately $750 on numerous occasions to hold educational events in her office for the pharmaceutical company.

 

But those charges were dropped, and a revised indictment for HIPAA charges was filed. Prosecutors claimed she gave a sales representative patient information in order to fill out forms to get an insurer to cover the drugs. She was also convicted on an obstruction charge for allegedly lying to the DOJ about why she was paid by the pharmaceutical company.

 

Luthra could have received up to 6 years in prison and a $300,000 fine for both charges. The judge on the case, however, said that the loss of her license and probation was enough of a sentence. He reportedly considered her work for years serving patients in lower-income communities during sentencing.

 

Pandora's box
Criminal prosecutions under HIPAA are not common, but Conor Duffy, a lawyer with Robinson & Cole LLP, said it is reflective of a growing trend.

 

“Prosecutors appear to utilize criminal charges under HIPAA in part as a fall back or as leverage against a provider, because proving HIPAA violations can be easier than proving the existence of an illegal kickback arrangement,” Duffy said. “The Massachusetts case is notable in that the government ended up dropping its kickback allegations but nonetheless prosecuted the physician for a HIPAA violation.”

 

There have been a few other cases where criminal charges were applied through HIPAA, most involving providers improperly using the information or providing it to others for financial gain. In one such case, a Florida nurse used the information of more than 600 of her patients to file false tax returns with potential refunds of more than $220,000. She was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison and fined.

 

“Some people are doing it for personal benefit, and it's happening more often than would be hoped for,” said Matthew Fisher, a law partner at Mirick, O'Connell, DeMallie & Lougee LLP.

When prosecutors file criminal charges, “they will come up with every single charge they can think of so one will stick,” Fisher said. Filing multiple charges allows them not only to find one that's valid, but also allows for negotiation. And when the government begins investigating, they will likely find some issues.

 

“Once they start looking around they will find something even if it's not why they came in the door,” Fisher continued “The regulations are so complex it's difficult to be 100% compliant and as a physician, you have to live with what comes out of that.”

 

Stay in compliance
This case provides a good warning, particularly for smaller organizations, that HIPAA applies to practices of all sizes, according to Amy Joseph, senior counsel at Hooper Lundy & Bookman PC. It is a reminder to avoid disclosing information unless it is for treatment, claim payment, internal health care operations, the patient has authorized the disclosure, or another limited exception applies.

 

“Disclosure for purposes other than treatment, payment, or health care operations need to be scrutinized,” Joseph said. “Get help, talk to your counsel. Just because someone else is in health care it doesn't mean they are going to protect the information or are asking for it for legitimate purposes. It's better to be more cautious than not.”

 

Duffy said personal relationships, such as those with some pharmaceutical sales representatives, should be monitored. These salespeople are “trained to cultivate business by building such relationships.”

 

“Providers also need to be careful to not rationalize potentially illegal acts—like allowing a sales representative to use identifiable health information to facilitate prescriptions of a drug for a patient—on the basis that a patient could ultimately benefit from a drug or device, because the laws governing these interactions do not take that into account,” he said.

 

If a provider gets into a situation where a pharmaceutical representative, medical device company, or other similar health care organization is calling and asking for patient information, Fisher recommends taking a step back before providing it. Providers should look at the relationship they have with the organization. They might be using it for valid purposes such as clinical trials or reporting to the FDA.

 

Most providers will shrug and say they would never get into the kind of situation Dr Luthra did, but Fisher said it is not always such an obvious delineation between when information should and should not be given out.

 

“If they are calling out of the blue and you're not clear why the connection is being made, question it and don't just volunteer that information,” Fisher said. “It's not a defense to say, ‘They told me it was OK and I never really thought about it.' You're always responsible for your own actions; no one is forcing you to do anything.”

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HIPAA Privacy Rule Can Be Tool for Health Information Exchange

HIPAA Privacy Rule Can Be Tool for Health Information Exchange | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Rather than being a barrier to information sharing and interoperability, the HIPAA Privacy Rule can be seen as a tool to facilitate health information exchange and flow across the health ecosystem, argued OCR and ONC in an Aug. 30 blog post. 

 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides individuals with a right to access information in their medical and other health records maintained by a HIPAA covered entity, such as an individual’s healthcare provider or health plan, noted ONC Chief Privacy Officer Kathryn Marchesini and OCR Acting Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy Timothy Noonan.

 

The authors wrote that the 21st Century Cures Act, enacted in 2016, among other things called for greater individual access to information and interoperability of healthcare records. The act directed HHS to address information blocking and promote the trusted exchange of health information.

 

 

“Information blocking occurs when a person or entity – typically a health care provider, IT developer, or EHR vendor – knowingly and unreasonably interferes with the exchange and use of electronic health information,” ONC explained.

 

ONC and OCR recently began a campaign encouraging individuals to access and use copies of their healthcare records.

The two HHS offices are offering training for healthcare providers about the HIPAA right of access and have developed guidance to help consumers take more control of decisions regarding their health.

 

These guidelines include access guidance for professionals, HIPAA right of access training for healthcare providers, and the Get It. Check It. Use It. website for individuals.

The authors also noted that the HIPAA Privacy Rule supports the sharing of health information among healthcare providers, health plans, and those operating on their behalf, for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations. It also provides ways for transmitting health information to relatives involved in an individual’s care as well as for research, public health, and other important activities.

 

“To further promote the portability of health information, we encourage the development, refinement, and use of health information technology (health IT) to provide healthcare providers, health plans, and individuals and their personal representatives the ability to more rapidly access, exchange, and use health information electronically,” they commeted.

 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH), along with the White House Office of American Innovation, are working to support the exchange of health information and encourage the sharing of health information electronically.

 

For example, CMS is calling on healthcare providers and health plans to share health information directly with patients, upon their request.

 

Also, NIH has established a research program to help improve healthcare for all individuals that will require the portability of health information.

 

The White House’s MyHealthEData initiative, which originated from President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order to promote healthcare choice and competition, aims to break down the barriers preventing patients from having access to their health records.

 

The executive order directed government agencies to “improve access to and the quality of information that Americans need to make informed healthcare decisions.” The order is part of a broader effort to increase market competition in the healthcare market.

 

ONC developed a guide intended to educate individuals and caregivers about the value of online medical records as well as how to access and use their information. ONC also produced videos and fact sheets to inform individuals about their right to access their health information under HIPAA.

 

“It’s important that patients and their caregivers have access to their own health information so they can make decisions about their care and treatments,” said National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Don Rucker. “This guide will help answer some of the questions that patients may have when asking for their health information.”

 

The agency said that an individual’s ability to access and use health information electronically is a cornerstone of its efforts to increase patient engagement, improve health outcomes, and advance person-centered health.

 

ONC noted that the guide supports both the 21st Century Cures Act goal of improving patient access to their electronic health information and the MyHealthEData initiative.

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Health insurer Reaches Settlements Over HIPAA Violations 

Health insurer Reaches Settlements Over HIPAA Violations  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Health insurer Aetna has reached settlements with a number of state attorney generals over HIPAA violations resulting from mailings to HIV/AIDS and cardiac patients, the New Jersey attorney general announced

 

The three states and district involved in the Aetna settlements are Connecticut, the District of Columbia (DC), New Jersey, and Washington. Aetna agreed to pay Connecticut around $100,000, DC around $175,000, and New Jersey $365,000. Washington has not yet disclosed how much it will receive from Aetna.

 

As part of the settlements, Aetna has agreed to implement policy, protocol, and training reforms designed to safeguard individuals’ PHI and ensure the confidentiality of mailings containing that information. The company has also agreed to hire an independent consultant to evaluate and report on its privacy protection practices and to monitor its compliance with the settlements’ terms.

 

 

“Companies entrusted with individuals’ protected health information have a duty to avoid improper disclosures,” said NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Aetna fell short here, potentially subjecting thousands of individuals to the stigma and discrimination that, unfortunately, still may accompany disclosure of their HIV/AIDS status. I am pleased that our investigation has led Aetna to adopt measures to prevent this from happening again.”

 

The investigation revealed that Aetna disclosed HIV/AIDS-related information on about 12,000 individuals through a third-party mailing on July 28, 2017. The envelopes used in the mailing had a transparent address window, which revealed recipients’ names, addresses, and text that included the words “HIV medications.”

 

The second breach occurred in September 2017 and involved a mailing sent to 1,600 individuals about a study of patients with atrial fibrilation (AFib). The envelopes for the mailing included the name and logo for the study, IMPACT AFib, which could have been interpreted as indicating that the addressee had an AFib diagnosis.

 

DC Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement: “Aetna failed to protect the health information of District residents and illegally disclosed their HIV status. Every patient should feel confident that their insurance company or health provider will safeguard their confidential medical information. Today’s action will prevent further disclosures and warns other insurance companies that they are responsible for protecting consumers’ private information.”

 

The three states and DC alleged that Aetna not only violated HIPAA but also state laws pertaining to the PHI of individuals in general and of persons with AIDS or HIV infection in particular.

 

In January 2018, Aetna settled a class action lawsuit that required it to pay $17 million in relief to the 12,000 individuals regarding the HIV mailing.

 

Lead plaintiff Andrew Beckett, which is a pseudonym, alleged in his original complaint that PHI and confidential HIV-related information “was disclosed improperly by Aetna and/or Aetna-related or affiliated entities, or on their behalf, to third parties, including, without limitation, Aetna’s legal counsel and a settlement administrator, and through a subsequent mailing of written notices that were required to be sent as part of a settlement of legal claims that had been filed against certain Aetna-related entities or affiliates.”

 

The letters from Aetna had originally been sent in response to a settlement over previous data privacy violation worry. The healthcare company had been sued in two separate class-action lawsuits in 2014 and 2015.

 

“Those lawsuits alleged that Aetna jeopardized the privacy of people taking HIV medications by requiring its insureds to receive their HIV medications through mail and not allowing them to pick up their medications in person at the pharmacy,” according to the 2017 lawsuit.

 

In response to the January 2018 lawsuit settlement, Aetna said that it is “implementing measures designed to ensure something like this does not happen again as part of our commitment to best practices in protecting sensitive health information.”

 

“Through our outreach efforts, immediate relief program and this settlement we have worked to address the potential impact to members following this unfortunate incident,” Aetna said in a statement.

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HIPAA Compliance Guidelines for Email & Social Media 

HIPAA Compliance Guidelines for Email & Social Media  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

HIPAA applies to both the storage and transfer of electronic protected health information, so electronic communications that may include patient data must be handled with care. This includes email communication between patients and healthcare providers, as well as social posts from healthcare companies and their employees. As more patients adopt an email communication preference and more healthcare providers succumb to the pressures of maintaining a social presence, the possibilities of HIPAA violations grow.

 

To ensure you’re taking the necessary steps to uphold HIPAA compliance standards in your electronic communications, follow these guidelines:

#1: Validate Your Email Security

If you’re sharing sensitive patient data via email, you must use encryption to protect patient privacy. How do you ensure your emails are encrypted and fully HIPAA compliant? Here are a few tips:

  • Adopt a HIPAA compliant email service.
  • Check your current email client for an encryption security setting and request a signed business associate agreement.
  • Set up a secure patient portal for provider-patient communications.
  • Avoid including electronic protected health information (ePHI) in the body of your emails.
  • Manually encrypt any ePHI files sent via email.
  • Include a privacy statement at the bottom of every email.

#2: Get Proper Patient Consent

Consent is an important—and necessary—part of ensuring patient privacy. If you want to engage patients in any sort of electronic communication, you must get them to accept the inherent risks and provide documented consent. Here are some scenarios where this consent is a must:

  • Before communicating with your patient via email
  • Before transmitting any sensitive patient data via email
  • Before publishing a patient testimonial on your website
  • Before sharing a patient photograph on your social channels
  • Before posting details of a patient procedure on your social channels

#3: Create Detailed Office Policies

To ensure HIPAA data privacy remains a top priority for employees during email or social media exchanges, you should develop clear office policies for these types of communication. Here are some of the guidelines your policies should include:

  • When and where to share privacy statements
  • What types of information may or may not be sent via email
  • How to avoid HIPAA pitfalls when using social media
  • Which employees may or may not transmit ePHI
  • When to obtain patient consent

#4: Err on the Side of Caution

If you want to stay on the right side of HIPAA, the best policy is to be extremely cautious about the information you share electronically. Simply avoid any electronic communication that falls into a HIPAA compliance gray area. Here are a few best practices to get you started:

  • Don’t publish a social post that includes any details about a patient’s circumstances
  • Establish appropriate electronic boundaries with patients
  • Don’t give medical advice via email or social comment
  • Allow just one or two individuals to post to social media on your office’s behalf
  • Don’t address complaints on social media
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HIPAA Compliance and the HITECH Act in 2018

HIPAA Compliance and the HITECH Act in 2018 | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

HIPAA compliance is an essential part of running a medical practice. The current incarnation of the HIPAA regulations has been in place since 2003 and they haven’t changed much in the intervening years — until now, that is.

 

The HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health), which was signed into law in 2009, is expected to be fully adopted this year. What does the HITECH Act mean for HIPAA compliance, and what are the changes you need to make to your practice to ensure you’re in compliance with both HIPAA and HITECH?

 

Overview of the HITECH Act


The HITECH Act was designed to expand the types of businesses covered by HIPAA. It requires not only medical professionals to be HIPAA compliant, but any subcontractors, companies that cover the transmission of protected health information (PHI), electronic prescription gateways and patient safety organizations to also be in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

 

This doesn’t make any changes to the currently established exceptions to HIPAA’s business associate standard.

 

HITECH was also designed to focus more on the patient than HIPAA, allowing patients to more directly access their electronic health records (EHR). This also demands patients be informed by their provider if their health records are compromised in any way.

 

The act encouraged “meaningful use” of electronic health records, helping to improve communication between healthcare facilities in direct relation to patient care.

 

Universal Compliance


If your practice or facility has an IT security department, it’s probably entirely different than the ones that are part of other businesses surrounding you. Network security is usually managed by many different departments or even different businesses, making universal security compliance difficult to manage.

 

The new HIPAA/HITECH overlap mandates universal compliance. This makes security simpler and easier to maintain for workers while still ensuring the safety of patient PHI.

 

One solution that is being suggested is the use of “smart cards” which will act as employee identification, a security access token, and authenticator, all in one simple card. This helps to keep the system more regulated because you don’t have to worry about carrying — and potentially losing — multiple cards or remembering long identification numbers.

 

Know Your Compliance
How can you determine if your practice is compliant with both HIPAA and the HITECH Act? You can go over the rules yourself, but these laws are so sweeping and expansive that it’s easy to miss something that could end up costing you thousands of dollars.

 

If you’re still concerned about your current HIPAA and HITECH Act compliance, hiring a professional Privacy Officer can help you evaluate your current practices and ensure that you are checking all the boxes when it comes to meeting your obligations.

 

Changes in Fines


HIPAA fines, until now, have been standard — unfortunately, they often weren’t costly enough to discourage HIPAA violations. Before HITECH was enacted, it was impossible to impose fines of more than $100 for individual offenses or $25,000 for all offenses at the same time.

 

The new overlap has changed the cost of violating the HIPAA or HITECH Act. These offenses are broken into three categories, based on the intent of violation.

 

Violations in the Did Not Know category are the only ones that may still generate a $100 fine. The change here is that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now has the option to charge between $100 and $50,000 for each violation, with a total fine of $1.5 million for identical offenses in a calendar year.

 

Reasonable Cause violations will start at $1,000 with the same $1.5 million caps for identical violations.

 

Willful Neglect fines fall into two categories — corrected and not corrected. Fines for corrected Willful Neglect charges will range from $10,000 to $50,000. Fines for not corrected violations start at a minimum $50,000 each.

 

HIPAA and the HITECH Act are both essential tools for ensuring the security of patient health information. Take the time to review alone or with a professional that you are in compliance with both acts so you can continue to serve your patients without the worry of massive fines for privacy violations.

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How to Keep Your ePHI Protected with HIPAA Compliance? 

How to Keep Your ePHI Protected with HIPAA Compliance?  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

There has been quite a fuss lately over offering patients greater access to their health records, particularly with the introduction of Apple’s EHR app, which promises to bring electronic health records into patients’ pockets and introduce the era of bring-your-own-data in healthcare. But often that desire to bring patients into the fold gets quashed by a fear of cybersecurity and HIPAA compliance around health information.

 

Recently, for instance, a man was stopped from taking a photo of his own X-ray when a radiologist feared it might violate HIPAA regulations, which kicked off a discussion of similar incidents on Twitter. These incidents arise mainly because providers simply don’t understand the ramifications of HIPAA and other health IT laws — and where to draw the line with access.

 

Indeed, understanding the nuances of these regulations is particularly difficult now that technology affects all corners of healthcare: from telemedicine to remote patient monitoring to consumer glucose monitors to smartphones with thousands of health apps. This ubiquity has created new challenges for providers and patients, particularly when it comes to ensuring the privacy and security of patients’ protected health information (PHI) in accordance with regulations, such as HIPAA and the HITECH Act.

 

What Is the HITECH Act of 2009?


The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, better known as the HITECH Act, was signed into law in February 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which sought to address new needs as healthcare IT infrastructure began to expand and change exponentially. In particular, this legislation incentivized providers to adopt EHR systems, as well as expanded security and compliance requirements.

 

Moreover, it allowed the Health and Human Services Department to expand its enforcement of HIPAA requirements with the aim to increase provider vigilance and consumer confidence in how patient data is handled and secured. With this in mind, it can seem understandable that the waters around patients’ access to data can be quite murky.

 

New Data Privacy Challenges for Providers


Traditionally, healthcare providers have been held responsible for all aspects of privacy and security of patient data because they have created and controlled it. But boundaries shifted once electronic medical records came into play. The roles surrounding data privacy and ownership are now blurred.

 

One of the main challenges that come with this change in ownership involves the use of smartphones by patients — in particular, patients using those devices to capture elements of their own medical data. The story of the man who was stopped from taking a photo of his own X-ray is not unusual. Often providers are reluctant to grant certain types of access, claiming that it would violate HIPAA, but most of the time that’s not the case.

 

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What Are the Medical Records Release Laws?


In September 2015, the Office of Civil Rights, a division of HHS, issued guidance for consumers regarding medical record release laws that sought to encompass both HIPAA and HITECH guidance.

 

Patients have the right to:

 

  • See and get a copy of their medical records
  • Have errors and omissions in their medical records corrected (or their disagreements documented)
  • Get a paper or electronic copy of their medical records
  • Request the provider send their medical records to another party with permission


While there is fear from a provider’s point of view, the language in this guidance is clear and specific. It broadly provides patients access to their medical data and does not specifically limit patients’ methods of acquisition.

 

Patients have the right to see any single element of their record or the entire set of data, except for the few exclusions HIPAA has set aside (these exclusions are minimal and not relevant in this discussion). Diagnoses, lab results, a picture of a cut or an X-ray image are all part of the medical record.

 

If patients are legally permitted to see and obtain a copy of their records in their preferred form and format, then it follows that the patient should be able to take a picture of that information during an office visit or consultation with their provider.

 

While the story of the man who was stopped from taking a photo of his X-ray garnered plenty of attention, many times doctors do allow patients to take pictures. For example, a patient in an emergency department had a gash in her hand from a dropped glass. She asked the doctor if she could take a picture of her hand while the glass was being removed. The doctor said yes. The patient posted a few of the pictures on her social media site. The photos include the physician’s hands but no identification of the provider.

 

Provider Concerns in the Bring-Your-Own-Data Era


While there is some hesitation around protecting ePHI, HIPAA is clear: Patients have the right to their own medical data in any form or format. Although the provider traditionally owns the systems that record and manage that data, they don’t own the data itself. A patient can use technology (including a smartphone) to copy that data, even if it’s on a computer screen in a physician’s office. Some providers will ask for a signed release, but that is not specifically required.

 

Patients must also understand that once they are in possession of that data, whether it’s a photocopy, electronic copy or photograph, they are solely responsible for the privacy and security of that data.

 

Provider concerns are twofold. First, there is a concern they will still be held accountable for the privacy and security of patient data they no longer control. Second, providers have traditionally controlled access to medical records because, as the creators of the data, they were uniquely qualified to interpret and act upon that data. With the consumerization of healthcare, many patients are taking an active and informed role in their own care. This requires access to the entire medical record, not just limited portions decided by the provider.

 

Studies show that engaged and informed patients have better outcomes. Providing access to medical records through viable technologies, including web portals, apps or even smartphone cameras, is the new reality of care. Patients are now included as part of the care team and are responsible for the privacy and security of the data they handle — their own. The next step may be helping patients understand the importance of protecting that health data.

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HIPAA Compliance Tips for Mobile Data Security 

HIPAA Compliance Tips for Mobile Data Security  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

HIPAA Compliance Tips for Mobile Data Security

Nearly 4 out of 5 healthcare providers use a mobile device for professional purposes. These numbers continue to rise as healthcare organizations place an increased focus on efficiency and productivity. (1) Although mobile devices are incredibly efficient and convenient, they also harbor measurable risks for data breach and the exposure of protected health information (PHI).

 

Mobile devices are often more susceptible to theft because they lack the appropriate security controls. In fact, mobile device malware infections have surged 96% from 2015 to 2016. (2)  To avoid hefty penalties and the risk of a data breach, healthcare organizations must develop and implement mobile device procedures and policies that will protect the patient’s health information.

 

Below are five recommendations from HHS (The Department of Health and Human Services) that organizations can take to help manage mobile devices in the healthcare setting:

 

  1. Understand the risks before allowing the use of mobile devices- Decide whether healthcare providers or medical staff will be permitted to use mobile devices to access, receive, transmit, or store patients’ health information or if they will be used as part of the organization’s internal network or systems, such as an electronic health record system.
  2. Conduct a risk analysis to identify threats and vulnerabilities- Consider the risks to your organization when permitting the use of mobile devices to transmit health information Solo providers may conduct the risk analysis on their practice, however, those working for a large provider, the organization may conduct it.
  3. Identify a mobile device risk management strategy, including privacy and security safeguards- A risk management strategy will help healthcare organizations develop and implement mobile device safeguards to reduce risks identified in the risk analysis. Include the evaluation and regular maintenance of the mobile device safeguards put in place.
  4. Develop, document, and implement mobile device policies and procedures to safeguard health information. Some topics to consider when developing mobile device policies and procedures are:
    1. Mobile device management
    2. Using your own device
    3. Restrictions on mobile device use
    4. Security or configuration settings for mobile devices
  5. Conduct mobile device privacy and security awareness and ongoing training/education for providers and professionals.
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HIPAA Privacy Complaint Results in Federal Criminal Prosecution for First Time

HIPAA Privacy Complaint Results in Federal Criminal Prosecution for First Time | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

For the first time, a HIPAA privacy complaint filed with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has resulted in federal criminal prosecution.

 

A complaint was filed with OCR over an impermissible disclosure of a patient’s protected health information by a doctor. The doctor, Richard Alan Kaye of Suffolk, Va., was alleged to have shared PHI with the patient’s employer without consent from the patient – A violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

 

The case against Kaye has been referred to the Department of Justice, which has pressed charges. While OCR has referred more than 500 HIPAA violation cases in the past, this if the first time that an investigation of a privacy complaint has resulted in criminal prosecution.

 

Kaye had previously worked at Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk, Va., as Medical Director of its Psychiatric Care Center. The patient had been enrolled in a mental health treatment program at the hospital and Kaye treated and subsequently discharged the patient. On discharge, Kaye stated that the patient was not a threat to the public.

 

Federal prosecutors allege Kaye shared PHI with the patient’s employer “under the false pretenses that the patient was a serious and imminent threat to the safety of the public, when in fact he knew that the patient was not such a threat.”

 

While it was previously possible for egregious HIPAA violations to result in criminal prosecutions for HIPAA covered entities, filing charges against individuals was problematic. When individuals were discovered to have violated the privacy of patients, and the violations warranted criminal prosecution, it was necessary to file charges under the aiding and abetting theory – The abuse of an individual’s position to violate HIPAA Rules.

 

However, the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) provided further clarification on criminal prosecutions for HIPAA violations, and made the process of prosecuting individuals for HIPAA privacy violations more straightforward.

 

If cases are investigated and OCR determines HIPAA Rules have been violated by covered entities, the cases are typically resolved by OCR, often via settlements. However, if individuals are alleged to have violated HIPAA Rules, criminal penalties may be appropriate. In such cases, OCR can refer the cases to the Department of Justice, the federal attorney general, and/or state attorneys general to pursue criminal charges against those individuals.

 

While criminal cases have been filed against individuals who violated HIPAA Rules and impermissibly disclosed PHI, the uncertainty of pursuing cases against individuals prior to the passing of the HITECH Act dissuaded federal prosecutors from pursuing cases. Since the HITECH Act was passed, there have been referrals of cases, although this is understood to be the first time that the Department of Justice has actively pursued criminal charges against an individual following the referral of a privacy complaint by OCR.

 

There is no private cause of action in HIPAA. While private citizens can file complaints with the OCR over alleged violations of HIPAA Rules, they are not permitted to file lawsuits against covered entities for HIPAA violations. The lack of criminal penalties for HIPAA violations may have dissuaded patients from filing complaints. Now the Department of Justice is taking action against an individual for an egregious HIPAA privacy violation, it may encourage more patients to file complaints with OCR.

 

This DOJ case shows federal authorities are now taking HIPAA Privacy Rule violations much more seriously. OCR is also training state attorneys general on HIPAA enforcement. After state attorney generals have received training, it is expected they too will take a more aggressive stance against covered entities that have violated the privacy of state residents.

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HIPAA Sees Meritus Medical Center Stop Media Announcements

HIPAA Sees Meritus Medical Center Stop Media Announcements | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Meritus Medical Center is one of a number of hospitals that has stopped issuing information about patient conditions to the media. The hospital announced on September 22 that this courtesy would be stopped.

 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act places certain restrictions on the disclosure of Protected Health Information to third parties, including the media. Just a few years ago, reporters would be able to call a healthcare provider to make an enquiry about the health status of a patient.

 

The hospital staff would provide general information about a particular patient’s condition if they were asked about a patient by name. The information disclosed would be restricted, so reporters would be advised for instance, that a patient was good, fair, stable or in critical condition.

 

Under HIPAA Rules this information may be disclosed to the media; however it is not mandatory for a hospital or healthcare provider to give out any information, except when it is in the public health interest to do so or if required by law enforcement officers to assist with an investigation.

 

HIPAA Rules See Patient Privacy Improved
Since the HIPAA Privacy Rule is now being enforced, and covered entities can face considerable fines for violations of the Rules covering the disclosure of PHI, many hospitals have now taken the decision to stop releasing any information on patients. They see it as a measure that will improve privacy and help avoid any inadvertent HIPAA violations.

 

In the case of Meritus Medical Center it was not only the risk of HIPAA violations, but the policy was changed to improve privacy standards for patients. Meritus Communications Manager, Nicole Jovel, said in a media announcement “In conversations with clinicians and administrators, we determined we needed to really increase the level of privacy we were providing.”

 

A Patient’s Status can Rapidly Change
There are also problems with such a simple classification of status and providing information when it is likely to change. Patients may slip from serious to critical, or may improve from one day to the next. It would not be fair to report a condition, if that information may be incorrect just a few hours later. In the case of newspapers which are printed the following day, they may contain inaccurate information before they even hit consumers’ doorsteps.

 

Patient Safety is a Major Consideration
Then there is the issue of confirming the identity of the caller, which in often impossible. The hospital treats numerous victims of domestic violence, and Jovel pointed out that the staff cannot be sure if they are giving information to an abusing partner.

The problem faced by Meritus is typical. There are too many variables to consider, and in a busy healthcare setting it is too easy for mistakes to be made. Ultimately those mistakes could prove detrimental to patients and the decision is made to stop issuing all reports to the media.

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Do HIPAA Rules Create Barriers That Prevent Information Sharing?

Do HIPAA Rules Create Barriers That Prevent Information Sharing? | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The HHS has drafted a Request for Information (RFI) to discover how HIPAA Rules are hampering patient information sharing and are making it difficult for healthcare providers to coordinate patient care.

 

HHS wants comments from the public and healthcare industry stakeholders on any provisions of HIPAA Rules which are discouraging or limiting coordinated care and case management among hospitals, physicians, patients, and payors.

 

The RFI is part of a new initiative, named Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, the aim of which is to remove barriers that are preventing healthcare organizations from sharing patient information while retaining protections to ensure patient and data privacy are protected.

 

The comments received through the RFI will guide the HHS on how HIPAA can be improved, and which policies should be pursued in rulemaking to help the healthcare industry transition to coordinated, value-based health care.

 

The RFI was passed to the Office of Management and Budget for review on November 13, 2018. It is currently unclear when the RFI will be issued.

 

Certain provisions of HIPAA Rules are perceived to be barriers to information sharing. The American Hospital Association has spoken out about some of these issues and has urged the HHS to take action.

 

While there are certainly elements of HIPAA Rules that would benefit from an update to improve the sharing of patient health information, in some cases, healthcare organizations are confused about the restrictions HIPAA places on information sharing and the circumstances under which PHI can be shared with other entities without the need to obtain prior authorization from patients.

 

The feedback HHS is seeking will be used to assess what aspects of HIPAA are causing problems, whether there is scope to remove certain restrictions to facilitate information sharing, and areas of misunderstanding that call for further guidance to be issued on HIPAA Rules.

 

HIPAA does permit healthcare providers to share patients’ PHI with other healthcare providers for the purposes of treatment or healthcare operations without authorization from patients. However, there is some confusion about what constitutes treatment/healthcare operations in some cases, how best to share PHI, and when it is permissible to share PHI with entities other than healthcare providers. Simplification of HIPAA Rules could help in this regard, as could the creation of a safe harbor for good faith disclosures of PHI for the purposes of case management and care co-ordination.

 

While the HHS is keen to create an environment where patients’ health information can be shared more freely, the HHS has made it clear is that there will not be any changes made to the HIPAA Security Rule. Healthcare providers, health plans, and business associates of HIPAA-covered entities will still be required to implement controls to ensure risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information are managed and reduced to a reasonable and acceptable level.

 

In addition to a general request for information, the HHS will specifically be seeking information on:

 

The methods of accounting of all disclosures of a patient’s protected health information
Patients’ acknowledgment of receipt of a providers’ notice of privacy practices


Creation of a safe harbor for good faith disclosures of PHI for purposes of care coordination or case management
Disclosures of protected health information without a patient’s authorization for treatment, payment, and health care operations
The minimum necessary standard/requirement.


While the RFI is likely to be issued, there are no guarantees that any of the comments submitted will result in HIPAA rule changes.

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How to Comply with HIPAA

How to Comply with HIPAA | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created in 1996 to protect patients' health information. Since its inception, health care providers have struggled with the need to protect patient privacy, share information, and keep paper work under control.


“When HIPAA came out, everyone was so afraid of penalties … but a lot of it was a reasonable recognition of patients' privacy that was already occurring in 99.9% of the cases,” said L. Lee Hamm, MD, Professor of Medicine and Executive Vice Dean at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

 

“It added a lot of administrative burden and … it introduced a few things to make certain that people didn't inadvertently do something they shouldn't do.”

 

Electronic information


A part of HIPAA with which specialists in particular are concerned is sharing information among other health care providers. Entities covered under HIPAA are allowed to share private information with other health care professionals for the purposes of treatment, payment, and operations.

 

But Heinold said there are often delays during this process that can negatively impact quality of care and increase liability. This can occur when providers unnecessarily request patients' consent.

 

One of the most efficient ways to communicate among providers is via electronic communication. HIPAA was amended in 2009 to encompass the use of electronic health records with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

 

Fresenius staff is increasingly receiving communication about patients electronically through mediums such as text and instant messaging, Heinold said. While this can facilitate exchange of records, it also comes with inherent risks. Fresenius trains staff to provide the minimum necessary information when texting about patients.

 

Louis Liou, MD, Chief of Urology at Cambridge Health Alliance, said his organization's biggest HIPAA concerns relate to electronic information. To comply, Cambridge ensures that all physicians with smart phones have them password protected and that their e-mail is secure.

 

Cambridge physicians try to avoid texting patient information when possible, but if they must, they do not use any patient identifiers in the text messages.

 

“There are a lot of pitfalls that could potentially happen,” Dr. Liou said. “Thumb drives have given way to Cloud issues. I think potentially there can always be problems – no matter how failsafe you make the system, there is always human error.”

 

Dialysis settings


Another concern is the communal open-floor nature of some clinical settings, as is often the case in dialysis centers, which may make it difficult to protect patient privacy. Still, training staff and implementing privacy procedures can go a long way to meeting HIPAA requirements.

 

Rosemary Heinold, Director of Communications for Fresenius Medical Care North America, a dialysis services provider and manufacturer of peritoneal and hemodialysis machines and equipment, said their organization has a handful of practices that help them comply with HIPAA.

 

Although patients are examined on the dialysis floor, Fresenius clinics also offer private examination rooms. Patients are never required to be examined in an open setting and may request a private room for physician consultations.

 

Like most providers, Fresenius staff gives patients a notice of privacy rights, which individuals must sign. They also post a notice of their privacy practices at all treatment sites.

 

Fresenius providers also work by the “minimum necessary” rule. The staff only shares the least amount of information necessary with patients on the clinic floor, particularly when others are within earshot.

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No Exception to HIPAA Privacy Rules, Nurse Learns

No Exception to HIPAA Privacy Rules, Nurse Learns | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Ms. P, 45, was a nurse working in the cardiology department of a large hospital. Her duties were varied, and included, among other things, accessing patient medical records to review lab values and other diagnostic tests ordered by physicians, and writing progress notes in patients' charts.

When she was originally hired by the hospital, she was given a lecture from human resources about the importance of patient confidentiality. Ms. P was required to sign an agreement stating that she would protect patient confidentiality by only seeking or obtaining information regarding a patient that was required to perform her duties.

Later, when the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) went into effect, Ms. P was required to go to another human resources seminar and sign a revised confidentiality agreement.

 

The revised agreement stated that she would not access or view information other than what was required to do her job, and that she would immediately ask her supervisor for clarification if she had any questions about whether information was required for her job.

 

Finally, the agreement contained a section saying that Ms. P acknowledged that violation of the facility's confidentially policy could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Ms. P understood the importance of patient confidentiality and would never look in the records of patients that weren't hers—with two exceptions. Ms. P's mother and sister both had serious chronic conditions that frequently resulted in hospital visits over the years.

 

Ms. P's mother had Parkinson's disease, was on numerous medications, and was prone to falls. Ms. P's older sister, who lived with her, had Down syndrome. Ms. P would periodically look up her mother's and sister's health records on the hospital computer to get information or to access their treatment plans. She didn't see anything wrong with this because it was her own family.

 

One of her colleagues, however, had noticed Ms. P looking at the records on more than one occasion, and anonymously reported her. The hospital's HIPAA compliance officer began an investigation that revealed that Ms. P had accessed her mother's charts on 44 separate occasions and her sister's charts on 28 occasions.

 

When the human resources director confronted her with the results of the investigation, Ms. P admitted that she had accessed the records, but that they were the records of her family members and therefore she didn't see anything wrong with it.

 

“Did you need to access information from their medical records in order to do your job as a clinical affiliate in the cardiology department?” the human resources director asked sternly.

“No,” Ms. P replied. “They were not cardiology patients.”

She was fired that day. Angered by the loss of her job, Ms. P sought the advice of an attorney to see if she could sue the hospital for wrongful termination. The attorney was skeptical.

“HIPAA violations are taken very seriously,” he said. “Did they give you training about patient privacy?”

 

Ms. P admitted that she'd had training.

“Were you asked to sign anything?” the attorney inquired.

“Well, yes,” Ms. P said. “I did sign a confidentiality agreement, and the hospital does have a policy that you could lose your job for violating it. But this was my mother and sister! They don't mind that I looked at their records!”

 

“That's irrelevant,” the attorney said. “It doesn't matter if they are family or not. You still didn't have the right to look at the records. I don't think we have a leg to stand on, unless…” the attorney trailed off, thinking.

 

“How old are you?” he suddenly asked.

When she told him, he smiled. “I think we may have an angle. We can try suing the hospital for age discrimination. We can claim that the privacy violation was merely a pretext to get rid of you – a higher paid experienced nurse – and replace you with a less expensive junior person.”

 

The attorney filed the papers against the hospital. The hospital's attorney promptly filed a motion to dismiss. The court, after reviewing all the facts, dismissed Ms. P's case.

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Strategies for Measuring HIPAA Compliance Efforts

Strategies for Measuring HIPAA Compliance Efforts | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

About 40% of large health care organizations do not take the time to measure how well their HIPAA compliance measures are working, according to Brian Wells, Chief Technology Officer of the cybersecurity firm Merlin International, headquartered in Vienna, Virginia. Most are unaware if they have thwarted cyberattacks, blocked malicious emails or kept staff from releasing inappropriate information.

 

“If they can't report that to the board, then they may stop giving them money to do more,” Wells said.

 

Measuring an organization's HIPAA strategy can be challenging. It is difficult to know if efforts to thwart cyberattacks have actually prevented breaches. “When ransomware like WannaCry comes out, it may be possible to say you protected yourselves,” he said. “If nothing bad has happened in a while, you can assume you are either doing a good job or just haven't been a target.”

 

How are providers supposed to measure HIPAA compliance effectiveness? Here are a few strategies for determining if an organization is on the right path using both internal and external resources.

 

A human touch
Wells works with hospitals now, but when he was on the medical practice side, his group performed annual testing on HIPAA regulations. The test was not hard, but everyone in the practice had to pass it. This not only lets a provider know where education is slipping through the cracks, but also provides a paper trail to point to should a practice get audited.

 

Adam Greene, a partner with Seattle-based Davis Wright Tremaine, also recommends informal testing to make sure people

 

understand their obligations under HIPAA. For example, the person in charge of HIPAA security can make a checklist to ask staff that includes questions like: “If someone wants to see something in their medical record, how would you respond?” Staff should know the patient has a right to records and the process involved in turning them over, be it filling out a form or directing the patient to the staff member who handles requests.

 

Another option is to assign an individual who would be accountable for walking around an office to ensure protected health information is secured properly. A few points to include would be ensuring computers are not facing toward patients; locked cabinets do not have the key hanging next to them; and people are logging out when they leave their computers.

“There could be a 10- to 20-question checklist and they can use it to see how they are doing and compare it over time,” said Marti Arvin, Vice President of Audit Strategy for CynergisTek, which is headquartered in Mission Viejo, California.

 

Arvin said an internal audit can be used to make sure staff members know where privacy policies are and that they are understood; whether all patients at their initial visit are provided with notices of privacy procedures; and if all of the staff members are receiving HIPAA training as they should.

 

Technology testing
Because health IT is constantly under attack, it would be difficult, expensive, and “voluminous” to show all of the attacks an organization has defended against, Greene said.

One option instead is to perform vulnerability scanning on a regular basis to examine if a system has unpatched software or other vulnerabilities. Another good practice is a phishing test. Here, an organization generates its own malware link and sends it to staff to see if anyone clicks.

 

Wells said an IT department can put in place a program that will check to see that people are only doing what they are supposed to be doing with their devices. It can also detect unmanaged devices that appear in the system. Electronic audit logs can be monitored to ensure people are not abusing their access.

 

Encryption is a must-have under HIPAA, and Greene said the best way to look at it is demonstrating that laptops are encrypted and will remain that way. For instance, someone with administrative rights can turn off encryption if they choose. But technical measures can be used to limit someone's ability to turn it off and to maintain compliance.

 

“Those things are really more to let you know how compliant you think you are,” Wells said. “For a full security audit, you are typically going to have to hire out.”

Keep it simple


Most physician practices are “dramatically under-resourced” in HIPAA staffing, Greene said. “The office administrator might be the privacy officer and maybe the security officer, too,” he said. “That is a lot of responsibilities, so providers need to give it some thought … and be careful about laying [extra responsibilities] on an office administrator who doesn't have enough time to do their regular job.”

 

Some of these auditing duties may need to be spread throughout an organization or hired out, but practices need to have an individual who is held accountable for auditing HIPAA policies. “There should be some oversight,” Arvin said. “Lots of practices give the title of security officer, but don't give resources or educate them on the responsibilities of overseeing the program.”

Greene also recommends making this a long-term endeavor. Instead of trying to look at all areas of compliance at once, he recommends starting with places where an office has had problems, where similar practices have had settlements, or where the Office for Civil Rights offers guidance.

 

For example, an individual responsible for HIPAA compliance might first spend some time ensuring staff members are providing patients with access to their records and if they are charging the right amount for them. Then he or she could move to other areas, such as disclosure of privacy practice guidelines.

“You can ultimately look at different regulatory requirements and create a master plan for how you are going to audit them,” he said. “Prioritize some immediately and others next year or the year after because they are seemingly lower risk.”

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Important HIPAA Compliance Issues in 2018

Important HIPAA Compliance Issues in 2018 | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

As 2018 gets underway, experts offer advice on some important issues related to HIPAA compliance. One issue is patient access to medical records. Kathy Downing, vice president of information governance and standards at the American Health Information Management Association, said her organization receives many complaints from patients who have issues receiving medical information even though right of access has been in place since 2003.This area is what Downing calls “super low-hanging fruit on the HIPAA tree.” If patients request records, there is no need to make them wait 30 days. If the records are stored electronically, practices should allow patients to receive their information in that format.

 

“The reason this is important is because in a lot of the cases, patients may be seeing multiple providers for chronic conditions, and having their chart allows them to be more engaged in their care,” she said. “It's an important patient right, and important for population health and patient engagement.”

 

By giving patients their records, providers are also allowing them to do a quality review to ensure their information is correct. Electronic medical records commonly contain errors, mainly because of copying and pasting of data, Downing said.

 

If physicians are uncomfortable talking with patients about information in their charts, she recommends that practices appoint a nurse who can deal with patient queries. Portals can also be a good resource to guide patients through their information. If someone has been diagnosed with prediabetes, for instance, a portal can provide links to trusted online sources that can answer patient questions.

 

Increased enforcement?


Another HIPAA-related question facing medical practices this year is the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) approach to HIPAA enforcement. Michael Bossenbroek, a partner at Wachler & Associates, P.C. in Royal Oak, Michigan, listened to remarks at a HIPAA conference last fall from the new OCR director. OCR might be striking a different tone as a new administration takes the reins. “How they balance the objectives of education and compliance with enforcement remains to be seen,” Bossenbroek said.

 

The OCR director gave no specifics, Bossenbroek said. Whatever approach emerges from OCR, as before, providers need to ensure they have the basics completed, with a risk analysis performed and solid policies and procedures in place.

 

Chris Apgar, CEO and president of Apgar & Associates LLC, in Portland, Oregon, said OCR has made it clear there will be continued enforcement activity in the coming years. No one is immune from them, he said. He recently worked with a small entity that had their wrists slapped by OCR. He helped them prepare a response, and when they failed to follow through with their plan, he had to mediate between the organization and OCR.

 

“If you respond to OCR in an appropriate and timely manner and follow through, they go away,” he said. “If you don't, they stick around. They are not going away.”

 

Shortage of security talent


Health care organizations will continue to face a shortage of information technology (IT) security talent in 2018, Apgar said. A report released this past summer by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that 3 out of 4 hospitals do not have a designated information technology (IT) security professional.

 

Larger organizations are better able than small groups to afford hiring IT talent, which can be expensive, Apgar said. But smaller organizations, which often delegate IT security to office staff who are already busy with other tasks, have options. Apgar recommends looking for students graduating from information security programs and bringing them on board as interns. Small groups do not require the same kinds of security setup that a Cleveland Clinic or Kaiser might need, and young individuals can help build and run systems. Organizations can grow a position with them when they are new in the field, although these individuals could leave when they become seasoned and expect a higher salary.


Vendors


With OCR increasingly scrutinizing and auditing business associates, it is important for practitioners to ensure their vendors are compliant. Apgar said the vendors he works with are increasingly motivated to do this for fear of losing customers. These customers – health care practitioners – are demanding proof of compliance.

 

To better understand a vendor's compliance, providers can request policies and procedures and ask to see their risk analysis and any other pertinent documentation. Some ask that vendors fill out a security questionnaire. Others go even further. Groups like Apgar's company can act as a third party to conduct a risk assessment, then attest in writing that a vendor has either mitigated or accepted risks found in the analysis.

 

New tools


It used to cost anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 for a tool that would automatically monitor audit logs and send alerts if an anomaly is found for a hospital or larger clinic, Apgar said. Over the past couple of years, new options have hit the market that lowered the cost to $35,000 or less, which is a game changer for HIPAA compliance, he said.

 

“As more technology becomes affordable, there is a higher likelihood that regulatory bodies will push back and say providers have to use it,” Agar said. “If a hospital is generating and not regularly reviewing audit logs, they will look negligent to regulators.”

 

Technology tends to move with the needs of the market. For instance, as cyber crime has become increasingly prevalent, tools have been developed and marketed to prevent attacks. Some tools look both internally and externally in a network to see if unusual behavior is occurring, and sends an alert if any anomaly is found.

 

Keeping track of technology as it becomes more affordable is not always simple. Apgar said providers can look at IT newsletters and check with their state associations to stay atop of new and affordable tools coming on the market.

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Case Management and HIPAA information

Case Management and HIPAA information | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

An employee of the Iowa’s Mahaska County government alleged that another employee committed a HIPAA violation when she locked a member of the public inside a building where files containing PHI were stored unsecured, the Oskaloosa News reported.

 

Kim Newendorp, general assistant director for Mahaska County, told the Board of Supervisors this month that a fellow county employee had locked a member of the public in the Annex Building and left that person alone in the facility.

 

“This person was waiting for me, but in doing so, she left all of the case management confidential and HIPAA information unlocked and accessible to that person. This is a HIPAA violation,” Newendorp told the board.

 

Newendorp said she notified her boss, one of the board members, about the incident but received no response. She then spoke with the county’s chief privacy officer, Jim Blomgren, who passed information about the incident on to the company that handles human resources for the county. No action was taken.

 

Newendorp said that she filed an official grievance with the Board of Supervisors, who passed it onto Blomgren, who then passed it on to the HR people, again with no result.

 

“I’m disappointed this situation has not been handled,” she told the board. “Especially due to the importance of HIPAA. The state DHS official has come forward to say that this situation is an issue, and yet nothing has been done.”

 

“I understand this topic may not be as important to you as roads, 911, and the airport, but I can tell you that the people’s right to have their personal information locked and secured is important to the hundreds of past clients of Mahaska County Case Management, and their families and myself.”

 

Willie Van Weelden, chairman of the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors, said he took action at the time, but declined to say what he specifically did to address Newendorp’s concerns.

Oskaloosa News asked Blomgren to comment on Newendorp’s testimony. “Since the comments of the employee at the meeting of the Board of Supervisors involves personnel issues and alleged HIPAA infractions I do not believe I am at liberty to discuss them,” he responded.

 

“I think in most counties, the board of supervisors, you would never do an investigation into HIPAA. You would never do a human resources investigation. No county I know of would have their board do that,” Paul Greufe of PJ Greufe & Associates told Oskaloosa News.

 

Greufe said that most counties hire professional services such as his to do the HR work and would direct those people to start an investigation. “And so that was the process that was followed to the letter.”

SIMILAR INCIDENT IN BOSTON RESULTS IN OCR REPORT

The incident alleged by Newendorp is similar to one that occurred at the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) earlier this year. In that case, someone was not let into the facililty unattended but broke in.

 

There was unsecured PHI in the facility, but no evidence that the PHI was viewed by the intruder. Still, BHCHP did notify people affected about the incident and reported it to OCR. 

 

The unsecured PHI included handwritten staff notes, printed patient lists, referral forms, and insurance/benefits applications. BHCHP told OCR that 861 individuals were affected by the breach.

BHCHP said it conducted an internal investigation that included a search of the clinic to which the intruder would have had access and interviews with clinic and shelter staff.

 

The program also ensured that the clinic door was secure and implemented additional safety measures, including an additional lock on internal doors within the clinic and secure storage of keys to internal doors, file cabinets, and storage cabinets.

 

BHCHP also updated its policies governing how staff use and store patient information.

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Hospitals Fail at HIPAA Compliance Re Medical Records Requests

Hospitals Fail at HIPAA Compliance Re Medical Records Requests | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Many hospitals failed at HIPAA compliance in response to simulated patients’ requests for medical records, according to a study by Yale researchers published in the JAMA Network Open.

 

The researchers surveyed 83 top-ranked US hospitals with independent medical records request processes and medical records departments reachable by telephone.

 

According to HIPAA, patient requests for medical record must be fulfilled within 30 days of receipt in the format requested by the patient if the records are readily producible in that format. OCR guidance says that hospitals can charge a cost-based fee to provide those records.

 

The researchers conducted scripted interviews with medical records departments in a simulated patient experience and also collected medical records release authorization forms. There was wide variation in the information provided on the authorization forms and from the telephone calls in terms of what data could be requested, release formats, costs, and processing times.

 

On the authorization forms, only 44 hospitals (53%) provided patients the option to acquire the entire medical record. On telephone calls, all 83 hospitals stated that they were able to release entire medical records to patients.

 

There were discrepancies in information given in telephone calls versus authorization forms among the formats hospitals said that they could use to release information: 69 versus 40 for pick up in person, 20 versus 14 for fax, 39 versus 27 for email, 55 versus 35 for CD, and 21 versus 33 for online patient portals. These results demonstrated noncompliance with HIPAA in refusing to provide records in the format requested by the patient, the study noted.

 

There were 48 hospitals that had costs of release above the federal recommendation of $6.50 for electronically maintained records. In one case, a hospital charged $541.50 for a 200-page medical record. At least seven of the hospitals were noncompliant with state requirements for processing times.

 

“Discrepancies in information provided to patients regarding medical records request processes and noncompliance with regulations appear to indicate the need for stricter enforcement of policies relating to patients’ access to their protected health information,” the researchers concluded.

 

The study is timely because the Trump administration has launched the MyHealthEData initiative, which is designed to improve EHR patient data access and use. MyHealthEData is intended to break down the barriers that prevent patients from having electronic access and control over their own health records from the device or application of their choice.

 

In 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in which he directed government agencies to “improve access to and the quality of information that Americans need to make informed healthcare decisions, including data about healthcare prices and outcomes, while minimizing reporting burdens on affected plans, providers, or payers.” The order was part of a broader effort to increase market competition in the healthcare market.

 

“The MyHealthEData initiative will work to make clear that patients deserve to not only electronically receive a copy of their entire health record, but also be able to share their data with whomever they want, making the patient the center of the healthcare system. Patients can use their information to actively seek out providers and services that meet their unique healthcare needs, have a better understanding of their overall health, prevent disease, and make more informed decisions about their care,” explained a March 2018 CMS press release.

 

While the goals of MyHealthEData are lofty, the results of this Yale study call into question the ability of private healthcare organizations to fulfill the Trump administration’s initiative, never mind comply with existing HIPAA patient access requirements.

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Top 5 HIPAA Compliant Cloud Storage and File Sharing Services

Top 5 HIPAA Compliant Cloud Storage and File Sharing Services | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Healthcare organizations are embracing the many advantages of cloud computing, including its scalability, cost-efficiency, and flexibility. While the cloud makes file storage and sharing easy and convenient, its security risks are numerous enough to have given rise to the CASBcategory. Before implementing a solution, however, it’s important to understand how industry regulations impact cloud adoption — and what to look for when selecting a cloud-storage service provider. For healthcare organizations, HIPAA-HITECH compliance can be a major deciding factor.

 

We’ve compiled the top 5 most popular cloud storage services that are HIPAA compliant. Before we go into those, let’s first take a look at how HIPAA-HITECH applies to cloud storage software.

Why HIPAA applies to cloud storage

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 with the goal of protecting the privacy of sensitive patient information. Covered entities under the law include healthcare plans, health care clearinghouses and certain types of healthcare providers.

 

In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act extended HIPAA’s requirements to business associates. A business associate is any service provider who has access to the protected health information (PHI) of a covered entity. This also includes subcontractors who create, receive, maintain or transmit PHI on behalf of a business associate, including cloud providers.

 

In addition to extending the law to cover business associates, the HITECH Act dramatically increased HIPAA penalties. Pre-HITECH penalties were limited to $100 per violation and a maximum of $25,000 for “identical violations of the same provision” in the same calendar year. The new penalties have a tiered structure between $100 and $50,000 per violation based on “increasing levels of culpability” and a maximum of $1.5 million for identical violations per year.

 

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights Management (OCR), which is responsible for HIPAA enforcement, has stepped up its efforts once HITECH amplified the consequences of HIPAA non-compliance. Both the number of settlements and the average fines have been growing since 2012.

 

The number of OCR settlements in the first eight months of 2016 are already double those of 2014, even with four months still left in the year. Of the 10 settlements announced through the end of August, six were larger than $1 million, and the average of the 10 was over $2 million. OCR also settled the largest fine to date, $5.5 million, with Advocate Health Care, in 2016. The fine stemmed from three separate breach incidents affecting a total of 4 million people.

 

In addition, in 2016 OCR levied its first fine against a business associate. Catholic Health Care Services, which provides management and information technology services to skilled nursing facilities, paid a $650,000 fine after PHI was compromised when a company-issued iPhone was stolen. The iPhone was not encrypted and did not have a password lock.

HIPAA’s impact on cloud adoption

The HITECH Act added a notification requirement — covered entities and business associates must notify OCR after a breach of unsecured PHI affecting more than 500 individuals. OCR’s breach database shows that a large number of the reported breaches stem from stolen or lost laptops, mobile devices, and portable media such as thumb drives. A properly executed cloud environment can solve the challenge of securing those endpoints.

 

A cloud storage service becomes a business associate if they stores PHI on behalf of a healthcare organization, and thus the service must be HIPAA-compliant. The law protects not only the privacy of the data but also its integrity and accessibility. HIPAA’s Security Rule, which addresses electronic PHI, includes physical and technical safeguards such as audit controls and access controls, as well as administrative safeguards such as data backups and security incident procedures.

 

In addition, cloud-storage services must sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with the healthcare organization that stipulates the vendor’s compliance with HIPAA requirements. Many of OCR’s settlements include lack of properly executed BAAs among the violations.

 

In 2015, OCR settled with St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center for $218,400 after investigating a complaint that the organization’s employees used an internet-based document sharing application to store ePHI without analyzing the risk of that practice. “Organizations must pay particular attention to HIPAA’s requirements when using internet-based document sharing applications,” OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels said in announcing the settlement.

5 cloud storage services that are HIPAA-compliant

HIPAA does not prescribe specific methods or tools for how to secure data; however, encryption is encouraged as a best practice. Breached data is not considered unsecured if the PHI “is rendered unusable, unreadable or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals.” According to HIPAA guidance by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), encryption processes that follow NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) criteria meet the above requirement.

 

Some cloud services, including iCloud, don’t provide BAAs, while others don’t encrypt data both at rest and in transit. Some services, such as Amazon S3, are not HIPAA compliant out-of-the-box but can be configured with some customization.

 

The following cloud storage services offer HIPAA support that include BAAs and encryption of data in transit and at rest:'

 

Dropbox (Business)

The company announced support of HIPAA and HITECH Act compliance in November 2015. It now provides BAAs for Dropbox Business customers. Administrative controls include review and removal of linked devices, user access, user activity reports, and enabling two-step authentication.

 

The business version costs $12.50 per month per user, starting with five users. It includes unlimited storage and file recovery, Office 365 integration, advanced collaboration tools, system alerts and granular permissions.

Box

Having added HIPAA/HITECH support in 2013, Box has been actively marketing to healthcare customers. BAAs are provided for enterprise accounts. Features include access monitoring, reporting and audit trail for users and content, and granular file authorizations.

 

Box integrations include Office 365, DocuSign, Salesforce, and Google, among others. It also allows for securely viewing DICOM files (for X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds) and for securely sharing data through a direct messaging protocol.

Google Drive

Google offers a BAA for Google Apps for Work customers. Covered apps include Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms as well as several other services such as Gmail. (Some core and all non-core apps from the Google App family are excluded.) Administrative controls include account activity and app activity tracking, audits, and file-sharing permissions.

 

Google Apps for Work offers two plans. At $5 per user per month, it includes 30GB of storage space. The $10 per user per month plan has unlimited storage (or 1TB per user if fewer than five users) and several advanced features such as additional administrative controls, audit and reporting for Drive, and Google Vault for eDiscovery.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft supports HIPAA/HITECH by offering BAAs for enterprise cloud services, and it has some of the best security practices in the industry. The security features are the most robust at the Enterprise E5 level, which costs $35 per user per month.

 

Enterprise E5 includes 1TB of file storage and sharing, advanced security management for assessing risk and gaining insights into threats and advance eDiscovery.

Carbonite

BAAs are provided for Carbonite for Office customers. Safeguards include offsite backup for disaster recovery; compliance with the Massachusetts Data Security Regulation, which the company says is widely accepted as the most stringent data protection in the country; and data encryption both in the cloud and on the local endpoint (as well as in transition).

 

Three office plans are offered, ranging from $269.99 to $1,299.99 per year. The first two tiers include 250GB of storage and the ultimate version has 500GB; additional storage packs can be purchased with all plans.

Your vendor’s HIPAA certification is not enough

The fact that a cloud storage provider offers BAAs, specific administrative and security controls, and encryption may not, in and of itself, make a healthcare organization HIPAA compliant by default.

 

This is how Microsoft explains it: “By offering a BAA, Microsoft helps support your HIPAA compliance, but using Microsoft services does not on its own achieve it. Your organization is responsible for ensuring that you have an adequate compliance program and internal processes in place, and that your particular use of Microsoft services aligns with HIPAA and the HITECH Act.”

 

HIPAA covered entities and business associates must carefully examine the cloud vendor’s specific provisions and policies before using a service for PHI. Ultimately, the covered entity or business associate is the one responsible for making sure all it’s regulatory mandates are being followed.

 

Making sure the PHI is encrypted in the cloud is only the first basic step. OCR also places an emphasis on risk assessment and management. Prior to adopting any new cloud service, organizations should conduct a comprehensive risk assessment and ensure policies, processes, and technology are in place to mitigate risks. 

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Is Your Practice HIPAA Compliant?

Is Your Practice HIPAA Compliant? | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Is Your Practice HIPAA Compliant?

With considerations and requirements that can be somewhat overwhelming, achieving HIPAA compliance can be quite challenging for medical practices. Even for those well acquainted with HIPAA provisions, there’s always the possibility of gaps and weaknesses. According to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), an average of 1,445 complaints has been submitted each day during the calendar year 2018. This staggering statistic means there is much cause for concern.

 

Often, the missteps in HIPAA compliance aren’t deliberate or due to lackadaisical procedures, but rather the result of insufficient documentation and/or inefficient tools. The first step in determining where your vulnerabilities lie is through a Security Risk Analysis. However, a Risk Analysis is often considered the Achilles heel for practices, requiring substantial documentation on multiple processes and contingencies. While the many complex layers of a Risk Analysis present multiple opportunities for errors to occur, its importance in passing audits and being prepared is invaluable.

 

Security Risk Analysis

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has determined that the Risk Analysis, which is derived from the Security Rule, to be the foundation of a HIPAA-compliant program. The Risk Analysis and its significance in HIPAA compliance impacts every part of the healthcare ecosystem. There are no opt-outs of HIPAA compliance, no matter the size of an organization or any other influencing factors. Every organization that transmits any Personal Health Information (PHI) in an electronic format or in data content in connection with a transaction for which HHS has adopted a standard, must be HIPAA-compliant. This includes providers such as doctors, clinics, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, nursing homes, pharmacies, health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans, government and military/veteran health care programs, health care clearinghouses, and/or MACRA/MIPS participants.

 

In straightforward terms, per the HHS site, the purpose of the Risk Analysis is to “conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risk and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information held by the [organization].” To ensure that information is protected and safeguarded by HIPAA standards, the Risk Assessment takes into account three separate organizational areas: physical, technical, and administrative. Each division must have its own plan for compliance, detailing both strengths and possible weaknesses. It’s also not a one and done type of exercise–plans must evolve throughout a healthcare organization’s lifespan.

 

Risk Analysis and Meaningful Use

In today’s medical profession, failing a Meaningful Use (MU) audit isn’t as uncommon as one would hope. In fact, the Morning eHealth section of Politico magazine reported that according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data, 209,000 doctors and providers were penalized for failure to meet MU standards in 2014, which is approximately two in five physicians practicing in the U.S. Failing a Meaningful Use audit often comes down to the same weak link—either the lack of, or the insufficiency of, a practice’s Risk Analysis. And further reports on 2016 HIPAA audits by HHS.gov have found that organizations did not have an adequate Risk Analysis 83% of the time. As the foundation for HIPAA compliance, it’s simple to see that Risk Analysis deficiencies can impact many other components of the compliance network as well.

Risk Analysis: The Center Piece of a Much Bigger Compliance Puzzle

Risk Analysis sets the tone for HIPAA compliance and having a sound plan that details strategies in all three areas are essential. However, many other pieces must fit together to complete the puzzle. Remaining compliant is an ongoing act of vigilance. Policies and procedures must be drafted that define processes to safeguard PHI, and should include Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans—compliance must continue even when the worst scenario occurs. In addition, everyday operating initiatives must be supported, such as password protocols and staff training. In fact, staff should be trained in PHI security within 90 days of hire, with continued education scheduled on an annual basis.

 

Furthermore, organizations should set in place routine procedures to ensure patients sign required HIPAA-related notices and forms, during both new patient onboarding, and on an annual basis going forward. It is also essential to regularly verify that vendors and other providers that interact with a patient’s PHI are not only HIPAA-compliant but have executed Business Associate Agreements to offset any liability in the case of a breach. Lastly, retaining HIPAA documentation in both hard copy and digital means practices have information readily accessible to confirm compliance.

Ensure Compliance: Join ChartLogic’s Webinar “Are You HIPAA-Compliant?”

In today’s modern electronic healthcare world, HIPAA compliance is mandatory, crossing all sectors of the healthcare industry. To avoid costly penalties, data violations, and breaches in doctor-patient trust, small practices, and large organizations alike must keep current with the HIPAA landscape and ensure that weaknesses in their systems are turned to strengths.

Join a free webinar hosted by Abyde & ChartLogic to learn more about Security Risk Analysis and other related HIPAA requirements. In this complimentary educational HIPAA compliance webinar, other topics covered will include:

  •  HIPAA Privacy & Security Rules simplified
  •  MACRA/MIPS & Meaningful Use HIPAA Compliance requirements explained
  •  Statistics from the most recent HIPAA audits
  •  Passing an audit
  •  Software solutions for HIPAA compliance

 

 

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Navigating Mobile Devices and HIPAA

Navigating Mobile Devices and HIPAA | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The mobile technology revolution has impacted nearly every industry across the globe, with healthcare being no exception. Hospitals, clinics, and providers have all quickly embraced the use of smartphones and other mobile devices along with the convenience of accessing important medical information quickly.  

Many healthcare organizations are capitalizing on the benefits that mobile devices provide by permitting physicians, nurses, and other healthcare staff to bring their own personal devices (BYOD) to use at work. Other organizations choose to provide their staff with company-owned mobile devices, finding it easier to maintain control and protect their networks. 

 

Although the convenience of mobile technology provides many advantages, it also comes with risks. If mobile data security measures are inadequate, covered entities are at risk of violating HIPAA regulations that can incur heavy fines. HIPAA fines of up to $1.5 million per violation category, per year that the violation has been allowed to persist can be issued by the HHS. In addition, other federal agencies can issue fines, such as the state attorneys general. There is also the considerable cost of a breach response to cover if data is potentially exposed. 

 

The majority of mobile devices do not have robust security controls which can allow devices to be easily compromised. For example, if an unprotected device connects to a network via public Wi-Fi, there is an increased risk of theft. Cybercriminals view mobile devices as an accessible entry point into healthcare networks allowing them to access valuable electronic Protected Health Information.

 

As mobile devices are rapidly becoming an integral part of daily healthcare operations, it is important that organizations fully comprehend healthcare mobile security. (1) HIPAA covered entities that choose to use mobile devices in the workplace must implement controls to protect patient health data.  (2) It is also necessary they review and address all potential mobile data security risks.

 

The HIPAA Security Rule does not require specific technology solutions when it comes to technical safeguards for mobile devices. However, HHS does require organizations to implement reasonable and appropriate security measures for standard operating procedures. 

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