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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Five Steps to HIPAA Compliance for a Doctor's Office

Five Steps to HIPAA Compliance for a Doctor's Office | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Why do you, as a doctor, dentist or any other medical provider, need to comply with HIPAA? HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was enacted by the US government to not only protect patient confidentiality and privacy but also to ensure that doctors and other medical practices protect their data to prevent unauthorized persons and criminals from getting access to patients' confidential, private and financial information.

 

Patient health records called PHI (Protected Health Information) are a valuable commodity for criminals and sell for high prices in the black market.   Medical professionals must therefore strictly abide by HIPAA rules in order to avoid monetary fines, damage to their reputation, loss of their license(s), and even imprisonment. Over the last few years, we have been hearing of multiple instances of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers being jailed or fined hefty sums for HIPAA violations. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has concentrated on education and outreach and has also focused on enforcement of HIPAA law especially when a healthcare organization suffers a breach or is in violation of HIPAA law.

 

Professionals in the medical field have the moral and ethical responsibility to abide by laws that govern them and to provide the utmost care, which includes protecting the health information of each and every patient. This requires the ability to make logical decisions minute by minute, plus a great deal of patience, professionalism, and high standards related to HIPAA compliance to ensure protection of ALL health information… which includes the following steps:

 

1. Exercise Privacy in Your Office Everywhere

  • Give patients the privacy they deserve in your office whether it’s in the lobby or their patient room.
  • Minimize references to patients; it is best to call patients by first or last name only when directing them to their patient room.
  • Allow for a quiet, private space when talking with patients individually so only those intended for the information are the ones who hear it.
  • Never leave patient documents/files unattended or unsecured.
  • Always knock before entering patient rooms.
  • While accessing electronic PHI (ePHI), make sure that no unauthorized person can see the data on your screen or device.
  • Continuously enforce this culture of privacy with your staff.

2. Post Notice of Privacy Practices

  • Print notice of privacy practices and place it in a common and clearly visible area in your office, so that patients are openly provided with the privacy laws and information that strives to keep their care confidential.
  • If you have a website for your practice, then be sure to post a copy of the Notice of Privacy Practices prominently on your website.
  • Keep copies of the Notice of Privacy Practices available in case any of your patients asks for a copy.

3. Maintain and Follow Written Policies and Procedures

  • Develop a written policies and procedures manual for everyone in your practice to follow, to ensure patient privacy and security. The manual should also contain forms, notices, disclosures and step-by-step procedures for patient privacy notification and overall HIPAA compliance.
  • Your policies and procedures should be accessible to all staff.  Get attestations from your staff that they have read and will abide by your written policies and procedures.
  • Review your policies and procedures annually to ensure that they are still current, and review them with your staff every year after this review.
  • Review, and if needed update, your policies and procedures whenever there is a major change in your practice, for instance, a change in your EHR or key software used like anti-virus, data backup service or anything similar.

4. Train Your Team on HIPAA Do’s and Don’ts

  • Ensure that your employees go through HIPAA training every year.
  • Your employees should sign and acknowledge their awareness of these HIPAA policies and procedures.
  • Document training dates and employee names as proof that all your employees have been trained.
  • All healthcare providers - doctors, nurses, and all staff - should undergo annual HIPAA training.
  • Ensure that your Business Associates also undergo annual HIPAA training.

5. Conduct the Mandatory Annual HIPAA Security Risk Assessment

  • This mandatory HIPAA security risk assessment should be completed in order to analyze risks within the practice. Typically, a security risk assessment will check your office for compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule and the HIPAA Privacy Rule.   Your security risk assessment would involve reviewing in detail your technical safeguards, physical safeguards and administrative safeguards which are all key elements of the HIPAA Security Rule.
  • You can either do this annual assessment internally or hire a HIPAA expert to perform the assessment.
  • If any evaluated areas require remediation or follow-up, plans of action will have to be developed with timelines to address them.
  • Be sure to address your follow-up action items within a reasonable period of time.  About 3-4 months is often considered a reasonable time for most doctors' offices.  For instance, if you are using a straight-cut shredder, your report might ask you to procure a cross-cut shredder or shredding service to make your document disposal process more secure.
  • Know where your patients' Protected Health Information is - where it is stored on your EHR, where your data backups are kept, on which employees you or your employees store any PHI, where printed versions of PHI may be kept.
  • If you don't already have Business Associate Agreements with your vendors, you should arrange to get them immediately.  These are important legal documents where you can specify the roles and responsibilities of your vendors or business associates when it comes to handle your patients' protected health information that you are ultimately responsible for.
  • While disposing of anything that has PHI on it - in any format - use secure disposal techniques. Your security consultant can guide you on how to securely dispose of PHI on different media. 
  • Some of the action items may be very technical, for instance, it may recommend that you implement secure email or encrypt your storage devices, or that you may need to get a vulnerability assessment done. Your IT vendor or security vendor should be able to guide you in these situations.

 

Ultimately, medical facilities that do not stray from complying with current rules and laws that govern their care and practice will continue to have the best reputation and the best rapport with their patients. Enforcing the highest level of HIPAA compliance within your facility means that you understand the importance of protecting health information and providing continuity of care across the medical spectrum to provide the best care outcomes for each and every patient in every way possible.

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10 Best Practices for HIPAA Compliance 

10 Best Practices for HIPAA Compliance  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

A failure to understand HIPAA requirements can be a very costly mistake, as CardioNet learned just a couple months ago. In April, the wireless health services provider agreed to a settlement of $2.5 million for a potential noncompliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. (1) The violation occurred when a company laptop containing the ePHI of 1,391 individuals was stolen from an employee’s vehicle parked outside their home. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR)’s investigation revealed that CardioNet had insufficient risk analysis and risk management processes in place at the time of the theft. In addition, the company’s policies and procedures implementing the standards of the HIPAA Security Rule were in draft form and had not been implemented. CardioNet was also unable to produce any final policies or procedures regarding the implementation of safeguards for ePHI, including those for mobile devices. 

 

“Mobile devices in the health care sector remain particularly vulnerable to theft and loss,” said Roger Severino, OCR Director. “Failure to implement mobile device security by Covered Entities and Business Associates puts individuals’ sensitive health information at risk. This disregard for security can result in a serious breach, which affects each individual whose information is left unprotected. 

 

Most HIPAA violations can be prevented by implementing HIPAA regulations into practice policies and procedures and ensuring all individuals with access to patient information receive the proper training. Below are ten best practices for keeping your practice HIPAA compliant.

 

10 Best Practices for HIPAA Compliance

  • Implement safeguards such as password protected authorization and encryption to access patient-specific information on all computers, laptops, and devices.
  • Practices should keep all patient paperwork, charts, and records locked away and safe out of the public's view. Never leave patient information out or unattended.
  • Computer programs containing patient information should be closed and logged out of when not in use. Never share passwords between employees.
  • Ensure all computers have updated anti-virus software installed. This will help keep a practice guarded against malicious software.
  • Limit emailing PHI if the information can be sent another way. When faxing PHI, always use a cover sheet.
  • Always properly dispose of information containing PHI by shredding paper files.
  • Make sure employees are aware that using social media to share patient information is considered a violation of HIPAA law.
  • If patient information is being accessed at home, ensure all home computers and laptops are password protected.
  • Back up all disks that contain PHI. Store patients’ information in a HIPAA compliant cloud server.
  • Compliance training is one of the simplest ways to avoid a violation. Practices should provide ongoing, up-to-date training on the handling of PHI for all employees.
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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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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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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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9 keys to having a HIPAA-compliant cloud

9 keys to having a HIPAA-compliant cloud | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Healthcare organizations are increasingly open to the idea of using public cloud services, whether it be applications or infrastructure. But to do so requires thorough planning and vigilant execution of IT operations.

 

Chris Bowen, founder and chief privacy and security officer for ClearDATA, a company that helps healthcare organizations use public cloud services, provides nine examples of controls that can be put in place. 

 

  1. Implement audit controls: Use tools such as AWS’ Cloudtrail and S3 buckets as key components of a logging infrastructure.
  2. Review system activity: Leverage audit logs to enable the review of activity within your system.
  3. Identity and Access management control: Keep track of every user who logs into a cloud environment and what they do; alert administrators if settings are changed. 
  4. Disaster recovery: Ensure there are backups of all data to satisfy contingency plan requirements, including emergency mode operation.
  5. Evaluate your security posture: Conduct vulnerability scans, penetration tests, and code scan on systems processing Personal Health Information (PHI).
  6. Establish a proper Business Associate Agreement: Outline key responsibilities between you and your vendors. These should address responsibilities for keeping data safe, how to provide patients with access to their data, and what to do in the case of a data breach.
  7. Access Controls: Ensure users are unique and logged. Enable auto logoff features, robust authentication features, and stateful security groups.
  8. Encrypt PHI and other sensitive data: Encrypt all data in motion and in rest using a purpose-designed approach.
  9. Ensure transmission security: Effectively enable the proper encryption of data in transit using AES 256 encryption (SSL and TLS) as well as object keys where feasible.
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Medical Staff Resistance to HIPAA Compliance

Medical Staff Resistance to HIPAA Compliance | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Recently, while reading a 2013 article in Information Week, "Doctors Push Back Against Health ITs Workflow Demands," I thought about various scenarios individuals have brought to my attention. It is indisputable that both the healthcare industry and physicians have been dealing with a dramatic shift in the landscape and, in turn, having to adapt to and implement a variety of new processes. In the article, the authors say, "There's a powerful force working against the spread of health IT: physician anger, as doctors resist adopting workflows that can feel to them more like manufacturing than traditional treatment." There are several reasons for this: uncertainty in reimbursement, the transition to ICD-10, and compliance requirements related to HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act.

Some of the situations that have been brought to my attention include: entities refusing to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), refusing to choose a vendor because a password is required to be utilized and periodically changed in order to text message, and giving a username/password to other members of the care team to change or augment the electronic health record. Needless to say, all of these scenarios are problematic for several reasons. First and foremost, they violate the legal standards set forth in HIPAA, the HITECH Act, and the 2013 Final Omnibus Rule. Second, engaging in these practices makes the person more vulnerable. Lastly, refusing to utilize a password in order to optimize both IT security and compliance is foolish.


At its core, a Business Associate Agreement is required between parties who create, receive, maintain, or transmit protected health information (PHI) on behalf of or for a covered entity. The phrase "on behalf of or for" is crucial because it extends beyond the relationship between the covered entity and a single business associate. This is the requirement of federal HIPAA. States may, and in fact do, have more stringent requirements.


One of the greatest areas of vulnerability is texting sensitive data using smartphones. Hence, it is crucial to make sure that the iPhone App is encrypted and requires a password (ideally, this would be a two-factor identification method). Yet, I have heard stories where physicians belligerently refuse to adopt a technology because of the requirement.

Lastly, providing a nurse or PA with access to a medical record utilizing the physician's user name and password is absurd. Think of the Ebola case in Dallas, Texas, where the nurses left notes in one section that the physicians did not read. What if both individuals had used the same user ID and password? How easy would it be to look at the audit log and determine who made the entry? The level of legal liability associated with this practice is exponential.


Given that these scenarios really do happen, what steps can be taken by physicians and other entities? Here are a few suggestions:


• Adopt a "no tolerance" policy and sanctions for non-compliance from the medical staff in relation to HIPAA compliance. Many organizations have these in place.

• Get your Business Associate Agreements in order and keep a log of all the vendors, business associates, and other entities that need to have one — along with the date they were executed.

• Never give your user id/password to anyone; the system administrator has it.


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Health Providers Beware: HIPAA Breaches May Give Rise To Negligence Actions

Health Providers Beware: HIPAA Breaches May Give Rise To Negligence Actions | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Electronic medical records provide a multitude of benefits for providers and patients by promoting efficient record access, cost savings and better patient care.  So what's the down side?


Well, for starters, these records are ripe for hacking and inadvertent disclosures. As mentioned in a previous post, health care fraud has reached new heights by and through the theft of personal and medical information.  Left in the wrong hands, the sensitive information contained in these computerized records could unleash a fraud firestorm.


Historically, medical providers have successfully defended against claims brought by plaintiffs whose information was hacked or otherwise improperly accessed by relying upon the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA") which expressly provides that there is no private right of action under HIPAA.  This success may be short lived as the number of hackers has increased and some courts, like Connecticut's Supreme Court,  have indicated a willingness to allow plaintiffs to bring claims for negligence and privacy violations against providers under state law.

HIPAA Standard of Care

In Byrne v. Avery Ctr. For Obstetrics & Gynecology, 314 Conn. 433 (2013), a health center produced a patient's protected health information (PHI) in response to a subpoena without notifying the patient and without taking any steps to protect it from disclosure in violation of HIPAA's guidelines.  The aggrieved patient filed an action against the provider for breach of contract, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.


While noting HIPAA's language with regard to private rights of action, the Court did not find that limitation dispositive of the negligence claim brought by the patient.  The Court hinted that a  violation of the standards promulgated under HIPAA may support a deviation from the standard of care required for a negligence claim.

Will New Jersey Follow Connecticut?

Given the proliferation of electronic medical records and the overwhelming amount of paperwork that healthcare providers deal with on a daily basis, the odds of falling victim to a HIPAA breach have markedly increased.  New Jersey health care providers should be mindful of the Connecticut case because New Jersey may follow this trend of reviewing HIPAA guidelines as a standard of care that may be considered to support a negligence action.

Problem Prevention
  1. Review and update HIPAA policies.
  2. Educate staff on the significance of the policies and demand 100% compliance.
  3. Develop a process to deal with subpoenas to ensure that the practice is in compliance with all applicable standards under federal and state law.


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Key Factors for the HIPAA Privacy Rule in Emergencies

Key Factors for the HIPAA Privacy Rule in Emergencies | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The HIPAA Privacy Rule was designed to help keep protected health information (PHI) from becoming exposed or easily accessible to the public. But what happens in an emergency situation? When does the public’s safety trump the privacy of one individual?

That debate is currently underway in Texas, as a nurse who worked at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is now suing her former employer for allegedly violating her patient privacy, as well as not properly training her for emergency situations. Specifically, Nina Pham told the Dallas Morning News that the hospital “failed her” and her colleagues when a patient diagnosed with the Ebola virus was admitted back in Oct. 2014.

In terms of patient privacy violations, though, did the hospital actually do anything that went against HIPAA guidelines? While the impending court case will make the final decision, HealthITSecurity.com will break down the finer points of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, and discuss exactly what should happen in an emergency situation.

HIPAA privacy and patient consent

According to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a covered entity is permitted – but required – to use and disclose PHI without the patient’s consent in certain situations:

  • To the Individual (unless required for access or accounting of disclosures);
  • Treatment, Payment, and Health Care Operations;
  • Opportunity to Agree or Object;
  • Incident to an otherwise permitted use and disclosure;
  • Public Interest and Benefit Activities;
  • Limited Data Set for the purposes of research, public health or health care operations.

Moreover, there are instances where covered entities need to obtain written consent from individuals. This is for what are referred to as “authorized uses and disclosures.” For example, a covered entity must get written consent to disclose psychotherapy notes and for marketing purposes. This includes “any communication about a product or service that encourages recipients to purchase or use the product or service.”

“A covered entity must obtain an authorization to use or disclose protected health information for marketing, except for face-to-face marketing communications between a covered entity and an individual, and for a covered entity’s provision of promotional gifts of nominal value,” according to HHS.

Additionally, it must be revealed immediately if the marketing involves a covered entity’s receipt of direct or indirect remuneration from a third-party. Essentially, for certain disclosures of information, a healthcare provider or hospital needs to have a patient’s written consent to reveal their PHI. However, there are several instances where written consent is not required. This is where emergency situations fall into play.

Extra guidance from the OCR

When Ebola was making headlines in the US last fall, partly due to what was happening at the Texas hospital, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its own guidelines. These were meant to further clarify the HIPAA Privacy Rule, and ensure that the public and covered entities understood exactly what was allowed and why it was allowed.

“The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects the privacy of patients’ health information (protected health information) but is balanced to ensure that appropriate uses and disclosures of the information still may be made when necessary to treat a patient, to protect the nation’s public health, and for other critical purposes,” according to the OCR.

Moreover, it is important for public health authorities and facilities responsible for ensuring public health and safety to have access to PHI that helps them fulfill their mission to keep the public safe. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or state health departments could be given that information. Along similar lines, a foreign government agency that is working with a public health authority can be privy to certain information.

Finally, notification can also be given to individuals who are at risk of contracting or spreading a disease. This will help dangerous diseases from spreading.

Even so, it is essential that the “minimum necessary” is kept, according to the OCR. Only the minimum amount of information necessary should be disclosed.

“For example, a covered entity may rely on representations from the CDC that the protected health information requested by the CDC about all patients exposed to or suspected or confirmed to have Ebola virus disease is the minimum 3 necessary for the public health purpose. Internally, covered entities should continue to apply their role-based access policies to limit access to protected health information to only those workforce members who need it to carry out their duties.”

A key point to the HIPAA Privacy Rule discussed by the OCR is that a covered entity can share information about a patient “as necessary to identify, locate, and notify family members, guardians, or anyone else responsible for the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death.” This could even include the police, the press, and the general public.

That being said, the healthcare organization must still try and receive verbal permission from the patient. If the individual is deemed to be incapacitated, then a covered entity can disclose certain information if they decide that it is in the best interest of the patient.

Finding the right balance

HIPAA is meant to protect sensitive data from being public knowledge. However, covered entities need to also prevent serious or imminent threats to the health and safety of the public. It is not going to be easy to strike that perfect balance between patient privacy and public safety. Having current and comprehensive administrative, physical, and technical safeguards are key, as are having staff members fully educated on HIPAA rules. It is unlikely that a data breach or patient privacy violation will never occur, but covered entities must remain diligent in prevention.


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HIPAA privacy and public health emergency situations

HIPAA privacy and public health emergency situations | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

In light of the Ebola outbreak, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has issued a bulletin reminding health care providers that the protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule are not set aside during an emergency.  OCR reminds covered entities that “the protections of the Privacy Rule are not set aside during an emergency.”  OCR cautions that in an emergency situation, covered entities must continue to implement reasonable safeguards to protect patient information against impermissible uses and disclosures.  Thus, covered entities and their business associates should review the HIPAA Privacy Rule to ensure that uses and disclosures in emergency situations are appropriate, as well as provide training and reminders to employees.

HIPAA recognizes that under certain circumstances it may be necessary to share patient information without authorization.  OCR’s bulletin notes that covered entities may disclose protected health information without a patient’s authorization as necessary to treat the patient or a different patient.  HIPAA also allows covered entities to release patient information without authorization for certain public health activities.  A covered entity may disclose protected health information to a public health authority that is authorized by law to collect or receive the information for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury, or disability.  Information may also be shared at the direction of a public health authority to a foreign government that is acting in collaboration with the public health authority.   In addition, health information may be shared with persons at risk of contracting or spreading a disease or condition if authorized by law.  Finally, health care providers may share patient information with anyone as necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public consistent with applicable law and ethical standards.

There are additional circumstances that allow the disclosure of protected health information.  A covered entity may disclose protected health information to a patient’s family members, relatives, friends, or other persons who the patient identifies as being involved in the patient’s care and disaster relief organizations.  Covered entities should review the specific circumstances that allow the release of this information.

Covered entities should also review whether the minimum necessary requirement applies.  For most disclosures, but notably not disclosures to health care providers for treatment purposes, a covered entity must make reasonable efforts to limit the information disclosed to the “minimum necessary” to accomplish the purpose.

Although the media has reported many details about Ebola patients, HIPAA is not suspended when providing information to the media about Ebola or other public health emergencies.  Therefore, covered entities should carefully review the rules surrounding disclosures to the media or others not involved in the care of the patient.  If the media requests information about a particular patient by name, a health care facility may release limited facility directory information to acknowledge that the individual is a patient and provide basic information about the patient’s condition in general terms, if the patient has not objected or restricted the release of this information, but information about an incapacitated patient may only be released if the disclosure is believed to be in the patient’s best interest and is consistent with the patient’s prior expressed preferences.   General information about a patient’s condition includes critical or stable, deceased, or treated and released.  OCR cautions that affirmative reporting or disclosure to the media or the public at large about an identifiable patient or  specific information may not be done without the patient’s or an authorized personal representative’s written authorization, unless one of the limited circumstances described elsewhere in OCR’s bulletin is applicable.

Although HIPAA is not suspended during a public health or other emergency, the HHS Secretary may waive certain provisions under the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 and section 1135(b)(7) of the Social Security Act.  The limited waiver applies to certain sanctions and penalties of the Privacy Rule if the President declares an emergency or disaster and the HHS Secretary declares a public emergency.  The waiver only applies in the emergency area and for the emergency period identified; to hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol; and for up to 72 hours after the hospital implements its disaster protocol.  Once the Presidential or Secretarial declaration ends, a hospital must comply with the entire Privacy Rule, even if less than 72 hours have elapsed since the hospital implemented its disaster protocol.


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Survey: Charging patients for EHR access may violate HIPAA

Survey: Charging patients for EHR access may violate HIPAA | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it
Dive Brief:
  • A survey of healthcare providers has revealed that as much as 25% of those who charge patients for EHRs may be violating HIPAA rules by doing so, according to a report released by the American Health Information Management Association.
  • While it is permitted to charge patients a "reasonable, cost-based fee" to access their electronic medical records, the survey revealed that many providers simply mimic their individual state's photocopy policy for public records requests, charging around $1 per page. Because the fee being charged to the patient is not related to the cost of providing the record, it constitutes a violation of HIPAA policy, the report stated.
  • "Regarding charges for electronic and paper copies of records, more than half (52.6%) of respondents indicated that they charge patients for electronic copies of their medical records, and nearly two-thirds (64.7%) reported that they charge patients for paper copies of their medical records," the report stated. "Charges for electronic copies varied from a flat fee for a device to per-page fees or some combination of the two, and charges for paper copies were generally by page, with 65% reporting that they charged less than $1.00 per page. Nearly one in four respondents (23.6%) commented that they follow their state's rates for copies. Following the state rates would suggest that the fees are not uniquely based on the cost to the facility. This finding would appear to be inconsistent with HIPAA and HITECH requirements that patients may only be charged a 'reasonable cost-based fee' for copies of their medical records."
Dive Insight:

There is no doubt that the implementation of EHRs is one of the most expensive projects to hit the healthcare industry since its inception, and it's obvious that the cost of implementation is going to eventually be picked up by the consumer. Taxpayers are already footing the bill for the $28 billion already appropriated by Congress to facilitate EHR implementation through its meaningful use program, but that still doesn't cover all of their EHR expenses.

All that being said, what's at issue here is a patient's right to obtain his or her medical records. The whole point of the paperless revolution is to streamline health information and reduce costs associated with paper-only records. By that logic, HIPAA requirements are reasonable. They simply state that providers don't have the right to charge patients unreasonably to get electronic copies of their records.

Now, $1 a page (or even less) may not sound unreasonable on the surface, but with medical advances transforming many fatal conditions into chronic conditions, patients are living longer with proper treatment. It's not uncommon for a cancer patient in remission to have hundreds of pages in their medical records. And in the age of the ACA, many patients are changing doctors and plans, necessitating transfer of the EHRs. Is it fair to charge several hundred dollars for a process that is equivalent in many cases to pointing, clicking and sending an email?


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Expect more, bigger healthcare breaches | Healthcare IT News

Expect more, bigger healthcare breaches | Healthcare IT News | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The potential cost of breaches for the healthcare industry could be as much as $5.6 billion annually, according to a new report from Experian, a global information services firm. The report is Experian's second annual data breach forecast across industries.

For healthcare, the forecast is stormy.

Expect persistent and growing threats, Experian warns.

The report points as catalysts, the expanding number of access points to protected health information, or PHI, and other sensitive data via electronic medical records and the growing popularity of wearable technology makes the healthcare industry a vulnerable and attractive target for cybercriminals.

"We expect healthcare breaches will increase – both due to potential economic gain and digitization of records. Increased movement to electronic medical records and the introduction of wearable technologies introduced millions of individuals into the healthcare system, and, in return increased, the potential for data breaches," the report notes.

"Healthcare organizations face the challenge of securing a significant amount of sensitive information stored on their network, which combined with the value of a medical identity string makes them an attractive target for cybercriminals," the authors add. "The problem is further exasperated by the fact that many doctors' offices, clinics and hospitals may not have enough resources to safeguard their patients' PHI. In fact, an individual's Medicare card – often carried in wallets for doctors' visits – contains valuable information like a person’s Social Security number that can be used for fraud if in the wrong hands. Currently, we are not aware of any federal or law enforcement agency which tracks data on SSN theft from Medicare cards, but the problem is widely acknowledged."

This year, Reuters reported that the FBI released a private notice to the healthcare industry warning providers that their cybersecurity systems are lax compared to other sectors.

According to the Ponemon Institute, 72 percent of healthcare organizations say they are only somewhat confident (32 percent) or not confident (40 percent) in the security and privacy of patient data shared on HIEs.

The takeaway? "Healthcare organizations will need to step up their security posture and data breach preparedness or face the potential for scrutiny from federal regulators. Reported incidents may continue to rise as electronic medical records and consumer-generated data adds vulnerability and complexity to security considerations for the industry.


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Biggest Health Data Breaches in 2014

Biggest Health Data Breaches in 2014 | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The five biggest 2014 health data breaches listed on the federal tally so far demonstrate that security incidents are stemming from a variety of causes, from hacker attacks to missteps by business associates.


The top breaches offer important lessons that go beyond the usual message about the importance of encrypting laptops and other computing devices to prevent breaches involving lost or stolen devices, still the most common cause of incidents. They also highlight the need to bolster protection of networks and to carefully monitor the security practices of business associates.


The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights adds breaches to its "wall of shame" tally of incidents affecting 500 or more individuals as it confirms the details. A snapshot of the federal tally on Dec. 22 shows that 1,186 major breaches impacting a total of nearly 41.3 million individuals have occurred since the HIPAA breach notification rule went into effect in September 2009.

According to the tally, the top five health data breaches in 2014 affected a combined total of nearly 7.4 million individuals.

The largest breach in 2014 was the hacking attack on Community Health System, which affected 4.5 million individuals. In that incident, forensic experts believe an advanced persistent threat group originating from China used highly sophisticated malware and technology to attack the hospital chain's systems.

The Community Health Systems incident is also the second largest health data breach since the enactment of the HIPAA data breach notification rule in 2009. The largest breach is a 2011 incident involving TRICARE, the military health program, and its contractor, Science Applications International Corp., which affected 4.9 million individuals.

Business Associate Troubles

The second largest HIPAA incident in 2014 implicated a business associate. That breach, affecting 2 million individuals, involved an ongoing legal dispute between the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and its former contractor, Xerox, which had provided administrative services for the Texas Medicaid program. The breach arose when the state ended its contract with Xerox. The vendor allegedly failed to turn over to the state computer equipment, as well as paper records, containing Medicaid and health information for 2 million individuals.

Another top five health data breach in 2014 involved both a business associate and a more familiar culprit - stolen unencrypted computing devices. That Feb. 5 incident involved a vendor that provided patient billing and collection services to the Los Angeles County departments of health services and public health. The theft of eight unencrypted desktop computers from an office of Sutherland Healthcare Services - L.A. County's vendor - affected more than 342,000 individuals, the federal tally shows. Initially, that breach was believed to have impacted about 168,000 individuals, but the figure was subsequently revised.

Unsecure Files

The fourth largest 2014 breach on the federal tally involved Touchstone Medical Imaging, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based provider of diagnostic imaging services, which became aware in May "that a seldom-used folder containing patient billing information relating to dates prior to August 2012 had inadvertently been left accessible via the Internet. The breach affected more than 307,000 patients.


The fifth largest breach of the year occurred at the Indian Health Services, an HHS agency. That incident, which affected 214,000 individuals, involved an unauthorized access or disclosure involving a laptop computer, according to the tally.

Shifting Trends

The largest health data breaches in 2014 highlight some shifting trends compared with previous years.

"In our opinion, hacker attacks are likely to increase in frequency over the next few years," says Dan Berger, CEO of security services firm Redspin. "Personal health records are high value targets for cybercriminals as they can be exploited for identity theft, insurance fraud, stolen prescriptions, and dangerous hoaxes." That trend puts a spotlight in the need to do comprehensive penetration testing, as well as taking other steps to bolster security, he says. "If I was a hospital executive ... I'd want to know the most likely means by which a hacker can break in."

Nonetheless, while incidents involving hackers in the healthcare sector appear to be on an uptick, insiders still pose the biggest threat to most entities, says Michael Bruemmer, vice president of Experian Data Breach Resolutions.

"Of all the incidents we service, regardless of the vertical [market], 80 percent of the root cause is employee negligence," he says. That includes such mistakes as losing laptops or clicking on a phishing e-mails. "Employees are still the weakest link," he says in a recent interview with Information Security Media Group, calling for the ramping up job-specific privacy and security training.

Meanwhile, incidents such as the Texas Medicaid/Xerox breach also highlight the need for organizations to bring more scrutiny to their business associate relationships. Business associates, as well as their subcontractors, are directly liable for HIPAA compliance under the HIPAA Omnibus Rule that went into effect in 2013.

The breach tally also illustrates the need for HIPAA covered entities and business associates alike to strengthen their security risk management programs.

"The data tells us that a HIPAA security risk analysis, while mandatory, is necessary but not sufficient. The remediation plan is even more important," Berger says.

"Too often healthcare organizations do not allocate enough resources to fix the problems identified in the risk analysis. We also see a need for more frequent vulnerability analysis, Web application assessments and social engineering testing. Stated another way, the healthcare information security programs need to mature."



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How Do I Become HIPAA Compliant?

How Do I Become HIPAA Compliant? | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

For healthcare providers, HIPAA compliance is a must. HIPAA guidelines protect patients’ health information, ensuring that it is stored securely, and used correctly.

 

Sensitive data that can reveal a patient’s identity must be kept confidential to adhere to HIPAA rules. These rules work on multiple levels and require a specific organizational method to implement comprehensive privacy and security policies to achieve compliance.

 

Most organizations find this to be a daunting task. We have put together a HIPAA compliance checklist to make the process easier.

 

The first is to understand how HIPAA applies to your organization. The second is to learn how to implement an active process, technology, and training to prevent a HIPAA-related data breach or accidental disclosure. Finally, the third is to put physical and technical safeguards in place to protect patient data.

By the time you’re done with our list, you will know what you need to consider to have a better conversation with your compliance advisors.

What is HIPAA?

Before talking about compliance, let’s recap the basics of HIPAA.

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides rules and regulations for medical data protection.

HIPAA does several important things. It reduces health care abuse and fraud and sets security standards for electronic billing of healthcare. It also does the same for the storage of patients’ healthcare information. The Act mandates the protection and handling of medical data, ensuring that healthcare data is kept private.

The part of HIPAA we are concerned with relates to healthcare cybersecurity. To be compliant, you must protect patients’ confidential records.

HIPAA rules have evolved. When the law was first enacted, it did not mention specific technology. As the HIPAA compliant cloud has become commonplace, it has inspired additional solutions. For example, our Data Security Cloud (DSC) is being developed to create a base infrastructure for a HIPAA compliant solution. Providing a secure infrastructure platform to ride on top of, DSC makes creating a HIPAA-compliant environment easier.

Secure infrastructure handles things at the lowest technical level that creates data, providing the key features to keep data safe. These features include separation/segmentation, encryption at rest, a secure facility at the SOC2 level of compliance, and strict admin controls among other required security capabilities.

 
 

Why Is HIPAA Compliance Important?

HIPAA compliance guidelines are incredibly essential. Failure to comply can put patients’ health information at risk. Breaches can have a disastrous impact on a company’s reputation, and you could be subject to disciplinary action and strict violation fines and penalties by CMS/OCR.

Last year’s Wannacry ransomware attack affected more than 200,000 computers worldwide, including many healthcare organizations. Most notably, it affected Britain’s National Health Service, causing serious disruptions in the delivery of health services across the country.

To gain access to the systems, hackers exploited vulnerabilities in outdated versions of Windows that are still commonly used in many healthcare organizations. With medical software providers offering inadequate support for new OS’s and with medical devices such as MRIs lacking security controls, the attack was easy to carry out.

The attack demonstrated the strength of today’s hackers, highlighting the extent to which outdated technologies can pose a problem in modern organizations. This is precisely why HIPAA also regulates some aspects of technology systems used to store, manage, and transfer healthcare information.

The institutions that fail to implement adequate systems can suffer significant damage. If a breach takes place, the law requires affected organizations to submit various disclosure documents, which can include sending every subject a mailed letter. They may also be required to offer patients a year of identity protection services.  This can add up to significant dollars, even before confirming the extent of the breach.

 

What is the HIPAA Privacy Rule?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule creates national standards. Their goal is to protect medical records and other personally identifiable health information (PHI).

It applies to three types of companies: providers, supply chain (contractors, vendors, etc.) and now service providers (such as data centers and cloud services providers). All health plans and healthcare clearinghouses must be HIPAA compliant.

The rules also apply to healthcare providers who conduct electronic health-related transactions.

The Privacy Rule requires that providers put safeguards in place to protect their patients’ privacy. The safeguards must shield their PHI. The HIPAA Privacy Rule also sets limits on the disclosure of ePHI.

It’s because of the Privacy Rule that patients have legal rights over their health information.

These include three fundamental rights.

    • First, the right to authorize disclosure of their health information and records.
    • Second, the right to request and examine a copy of their health records at any time.
    • Third, patients have the right to request corrections to their records as needed.

The HIPAA Privacy Act requires providers to protect patients’ information. It also provides patients with rights regarding their health information.

 

What Is The HIPAA Security Rule

The HIPAA Security Rule is a subset of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. It applies to electronic protected health information (ePHI), which should be protected if it is created, maintained, received, or used by a covered entity.

The safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule are broken down into three main sections. These include technical, physical, and administrative safeguards.

Entities affected by HIPAA must adhere to all safeguards to be compliant.

Technical Safeguards

The technical safeguards included in the HIPAA Security Rule break down into four categories.

    • First is access control. These controls are designed to limit access to ePHI. Only authorized persons may access confidential information.
    • Second is audit control. Covered entities must use hardware, software, and procedures to record ePHI. Audit controls also ensure that they are monitoring access and activity in all systems that use ePHI.
    • Third are integrity controls. Entities must have procedures in place to make sure that ePHI is not destroyed or altered improperly. These must include electronic measures to confirm compliance.
    • Finally, there must be transmission security. Covered entities must protect ePHI whenever they transmit or receive it over an electronic network.

The technical safeguards require HIPAA-compliant entities to put policies and procedures in place to make sure that ePHI is secure. They apply whether the ePHI is being stored, used, or transmitted.

Physical Safeguards

Covered entities must also implement physical safeguards to protect ePHI. The physical safeguards cover the facilities where data is stored, and the devices used to access them.

Facility access must be limited to authorized personnel. Many companies already have security measures in place. If you don’t, you’ll be required to add them. Anybody who is not considered an authorized will be prohibited from entry.

Workstation and device security are also essential. Only authorized personnel should have access to and use of electronic media and workstations.

Security of electronic media must also include policies for the disposal of these items. The removal, transfer, destruction, or re-use of such devices must be processed in a way that protects ePHI.

Administrative Safeguards

The third type of required safeguard is administrative. These include five different specifics.

    • First, there must be a security management process. The covered entity must identify all potential security risks to ePHI. It must analyze them. Then, it must implement security measures to reduce the risks to an appropriate level.
    • Second, there must be security personnel in place. Covered entities must have a designated security official. The official’s job is to develop and implement HIPAA-related security policies and procedures.
    • Third, covered entities must have an information access management system. The Privacy Rule limits the uses and disclosures of ePHI. Covered entities must put procedures in place that restrict access to ePHI to when it is appropriate based on the user’s role.
    • Fourth, covered entities must provide workforce training and management. They must authorize and supervise any employees who work with ePHI. These employees must get training in the entity’s security policies. Likewise, the entity must sanction employees who violate these policies.
    • Fifth, there must be an evaluation system in place. Covered entities must periodically assess their security policies and procedures.

Who Must Be HIPAA complaint?

There are four classes of business that must adhere to HIPAA rules. If your company fits one of them, you must take steps to comply.

The first class is health plans. These include HMOs, employer health plans, and health maintenance companies. This class contains schools who handle PHI for students and teachers. It also covers both Medicare and Medicaid.

The second class is healthcare clearinghouses. These include healthcare billing services and community, health management information systems. Also included are any entities that collect information from healthcare entities and process it into an industry-standard format.

The third class is healthcare providers. That means any individual or organization that treats patients. Examples include doctors, surgeons, dentists, podiatrists, and optometrists. It also includes lab technicians, hospitals, group practices, pharmacies, and clinics.

The final class is for business associates of the other three levels. It covers any company that handles ePHI such as contractors, and infrastructure services providers. Most companies’ HR departments also fall into this category because they handle ePHI of their employees. Additional examples include data processing firms and data transmission providers. This class also includes companies that store or shred documents. Medical equipment companies, transcription services, accountants, and auditors must also comply.

If your entity fits one of these descriptions, then you must take steps to comply with HIPAA rules.

What is the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule?

Even when security measures are in place, it’s possible that a breach may occur. If it does, the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule specifies how covered entities should deal with it.

The first thing you need to know is how to define a breach. A breach is a use or disclosure of PHI forbidden by the Privacy Rule.

The covered entity must assess the risk using these criteria:

    1. The nature of the PHI involved, including identifying information and the likelihood of re-identification;
    2. The identity of the unauthorized person who received or used the PHI;
    3. Whether the PHI was viewed or acquired; and
    4. The extent to which the risk to the PHI has been mitigated.

Sometimes, PHI may be acquired or disclosed without a breach.

The HIPAA rules specify three examples.

  • The first is when PHI is unintentionally acquired by an employee or person who acted in good faith and within the scope of their authority.
  • The second is inadvertent disclosure of PHI by one authorized person to another. The information must not be further disclosed or used in a way not covered by the Privacy Rule.
  • The third occurs if the covered entity determines that the unauthorized person who received the disclosure would not be able to retain the PHI.

 

If there is a breach as defined above, the entity must disclose it. The disclosures advise individuals and HHS that the breach has occurred.

 

Personal disclosures must be mailed or emailed to those affected by the breach. A media disclosure must be made in some circumstances. If more than 500 people in one area are affected, the media must be notified.

 

Finally, there must also be a disclosure to the HHS Secretary.

The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule protects PHI by holding covered entities accountable. It also ensures that patients are notified if their personal health information has been compromised.

 

What Are The HIPAA Requirements for Compliance

The common question is, how to become HIPAA compliant?

The key to HIPAA compliance certification is to take a systematic approach. If your entity is covered by HIPAA rules, you must be compliant. You must also perform regular audits and updates as needed.

 

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive checklist for use in creating your HIPAA compliance policy.

HIPAA Compliance Checklist

These questions cover the components to make you are HIPAA-compliant. You can use the checklist to mark each task as you accomplish it. The list is intended to be used for self-evaluation.

Have you conducted the necessary audits and assessments according to National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) Guidelines?

 

The audits in question involve security risk assessments, privacy assessments, and administrative assessments.

Have you identified all the deficiencies and issues discovered during the three audits?

 

There are several things to consider before doing the self-audit checklist. You need to ensure that all security, privacy, and administrative deficiencies and issues are appropriately addressed.

 

Have you created thorough remediation plans to address the deficiencies you have identified?

After covering the deficiencies and issues mentioned above, you need to provide remediation for each group.

Do you have policies and procedures in place that are relevant to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, the HIPAA Security Rule, and the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule?

 

You must be aware of these three critical aspects of a HIPAA compliance program and ensure each is adequately addressed.

    • Have you distributed the policies and procedures specified to all staff members?
      • Have all staff members read and attested to the HIPAA policies and procedures you have put in place?
      • Have you documented their attestation, so you can prove that you have distributed the rules?
      • Do you have documentation for annual reviews of your HIPAA policies and procedures?
    • Have all your staff members gone through basic HIPAA compliance training?
      • Have all staff members completed HIPAA training for employees?
      • Do you have documentation of their training?
      • Have you designated a staff member as the HIPAA Compliance, Privacy, or Security Officer as required by law?
    • Have you identified all business associates as defined under HIPAA rules?
      • Have you identified all associates who may receive, transmit, maintain, process, or have access to ePHI?
      • Do you have a Business Associate Agreement (Business Associate Contract) in place with each identify you have identified as a Business Associate?
      • Have you audited your Business Associates to make sure they are compliant with HIPAA rules?
      • Do you have written reports to prove your due diligence regarding your Business Associates?
    • Do you have a management system in place to handle security incidents or breaches?
      • Do you have systems in place to allow you to track and manage investigations of any incidents that impact the security of PHI?
      • Can you demonstrate that you have investigated each incident?
      • Can you provide reporting of all breaches and incidents, whether they are minor or meaningful?
      • Is there a system in place so staff members may anonymously report an incident if the need arises?

As you work your way through this checklist, remember to be thorough. You must be able to provide proper documentation of your audits, procedures, policies, training, and breaches.

As a final addition to our checklist, here is a review of the general instructions regarding a HIPAA compliance audit.

    • If a document refers to an entity, it means both the covered entity and all business associates unless otherwise specified
    • Management refers to the appropriate officials designated by the covered entity to implement policies, procedures, and standards under HIPAA rules.
    • The covered entity must provide all specified documents to the auditor. A compendium of all entity policies is not acceptable. It is not the auditor’s job to search for the requested information.
    • Any documents provided must be the versions in use as of the audit notification and document request unless otherwise specified.
    • Covered entities or business associates must submit all documents via OCR’s secure online web portal in PDF, MS Word, or MS Excel.
    • If the appropriate documentation of implementation is not available, the covered entity must provide examples from “equivalent previous time periods” to complete the sample. If no such documentation is available, a written statement must be provided.
    • Workforce members include:
      • Entity employees
      • On-site contractors
      • Students
      • Volunteers
    • Information systems include:
      • Hardware
      • Software
      • Information
      • Data
      • Applications
      • Communications
      • People

Proper adherence to audit rules is necessary. A lack of compliance will impact your ability to do business.

In Closing, HIPAA Questions and Answers

HIPAA rules are designed to ensure that any entity that collects, maintains, or uses confidential patient information handles it appropriately. It may be time-consuming to work your way through this free HIPAA self-audit checklist. However, it is essential that you cover every single aspect of it. Your compliance is mandated by law and is also the right thing to do to ensure that patients can trust you with their personal health information.

One thing to understand is that it is an incredible challenge to try to do this by yourself. You need professional help such as a HIPAA technology consultant. Gone are the days you can have a server in your closet at the office, along with your office supplies. The cleaning personnel seeing a print out of a patient’s file constitutes a ‘disclosable’ event.

Screen servers, privacy screens, and professionally-managed technology solutions are a must. Just because you use a SAS-based MR (Medical Records) solution, does not mean you are no longer responsible for the privacy of that data. If they have lax security, it is still the providers’ responsibility to protect that data. Therefore the burden of due diligence is still on the provider.

Phoenix NAP’s HIPAA compliant hosting solutions have safeguards in place, as audited in its SOC2 certifications. We provide 100% uptime guarantees and compliance-ready platform that you can use to build secure healthcare infrastructure.

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HIPAA liability protections: business associate agreements are must for effective risk management

HIPAA liability protections: business associate agreements are must for effective risk management | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The first step for a physician, known under the language of HIPAA as a “covered entity,” is to determine the need for a BAA with a vendor. A vendor is considered a “business associate” under HIPAA if the vendor creates, receives, maintains, or transmits patient health information (PHI) on the provider’s behalf.

 

Common services performed by a business associate (BA) include claims processing, data analysis, quality assurance, billing and collection, practice management, legal, accounting, and consulting.

 

Entities that only serve as conduits, such as the post office or Internet service providers, are not considered BAs even though they handle patient information.

 

What BAs must include

If a business associate is providing services to a covered entity, the parties must enter into a written BAA that:

 

  • establishes the permitted uses/disclosures of PHI,
  • stipulates that the BA must use appropriate safeguards to prevent unauthorized PHI uses and disclosures,
  • spells out that the BA reports to the covered entity any unauthorized uses and disclosures,
  • extends the terms of the BAA to its subcontracts, and
  • establishes that upon termination of the BAA, the vendor must either return or destroy all PHI.

 

The consequences of not having a written BAA can be severe. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) could request a copy of a covered entity’s BAA if there is a complaint registered over a covered entity or if a breach occurs.

 

Violations under HIPAA can be penalized at anywhere between $100 to $50,000 per violation, up to a calendar year maximum penalty of $1,500,000 for a single violation. The OCR could take the position that every day that the BA and covered entity did not have a business associate agreement is a violation, and multiply the fine by the number of days no BAA penalty was in place, so the penalties can be steep.

 

Liability of agents

Under HIPAA, a covered entity is liable for the acts of its agents, which can include a BA.

 

Whether an agency relationship exists is determined case by case, with the essential factor being whether the provider has the right or authority to control the BA’s conduct. The authority of a provider to give instructions or directions is the control that can result in an agency relationship.

 

The language in the BAA will be considered in determining whether an agency relationship is present. If a covered entity is controlling the performance of its BA, the covered entity should closely monitor the BA’s performance since the covered entity will be held accountable for its performance.

 

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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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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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Why Your Dental or Medical Website Needs To Be HIPAA Compliant?

Why Your Dental or Medical Website Needs To Be HIPAA Compliant? | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

As the digital world becomes ever more entrenched in our lives, so does crime and information gathering start becoming more advanced. Patient privacy is a serious issue, and while the majority of websites can safely be hosted on the internet without special considerations regarding safety and security, healthcare has no such luxury. In fact, it is vital that all healthcare websites take extra steps to secure their site to be HIPAA compliant.

 

HIPAA And You, What Is It Exactly?

Developed some years ago, HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and was established to provides guidelines and regulations on the security of the personal information of patients. Two elements of this rule create conditions that must be met to be found in compliance with HIPAA rules. These rules are the Privacy Rule, outlining the protection of your patient’s private health information, and the security rule describing the requirements for data security measures.

 

How Can I Make My Website HIPAA Compliant?

It begins with going beyond basic encryption, websites that seek to be HIPAA compliant have to invest in higher level security measures. The only way you can avoid this as part of the medical industry would be if your site doesn’t do any collection or providing of personal information, and avoiding any third-party transactions of data.

 

The first step to securing your website is to utilize SSL security or Secure Sockets Layer. You’ve likely noticed sites like this when they contain the https:// prefix instead of http://. Those sites that have an SSL certificate encrypts communication between the web browser and the server. This is required to be found in compliant with HIPAA laws.

 

You can also make sure that your site is HIPAA compliant by using high security data collection forms that provide additional protection. The basic CMS (Content Management System) provided with most web hosts don’t provide that level of security, so it’s often wise to select a third party form builder that meets the requirements of HIPAA. 

 

Healthcare Website Design

HIPAA compliance is a vital element of your design for a healthcare website, especially as access to technology increases and becomes further integrated with our day to day lives. It is your responsibility as the owner of the website to ensure that your security system meets the strident requirements of this act. Whether you’re a public institution or serve the community as a private practice, your website design company can aid you in providing a secure website that will be approachable and informative for your clientele while maintaining the necessary security protocols.

 

Don’t put your practice at risk with a site that doesn’t protect your patients information appropriately,  To begin designing an attractive website that will serve your patients with the security and peace of mind they deserve. Violations of HIPAA are a serious concern and can result in costly fines and, more importantly, the compromising of your patients privacy.

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HIPAA as an umbrella for county/municipal cybersecurity

HIPAA as an umbrella for county/municipal cybersecurity | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Are you a covered entity?

Basing a county/municipal information security (infosec) and cybersecurity framework on HIPAA is a logical choice, especially if you have one or more covered entities (CE) in your organization.

 

How do you know if you have or are a CE? If some department or division within your organization is a health care provider, a health plan or a health care clearinghouse, they are a CE. If you have clinics, doctors, psychologists, clinical social workers, chiropractors, nursing homes or pharmacies, you are a CE [i]. Moreover, many counties have divisions or departments that function as accountable care organizations (ACO), managed care organizations (MCO), health care clearinghouses or health maintenance organizations (HMO). These are all common functions, especially within large county governments.

Are you in compliance?

If anything described above applies to your county or municipal organization, one or more divisions of your organization is a CE and is required to be in compliance with both the HIPAA Security Rule and the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

 

In my experience, most county governments that have covered entities are out of compliance. Where does your organization stand?

 

I suspect what often happens is that executives look at something like information security policy requirements and say:

This has tech words in it. IT handles tech stuff. Therefore, I’ll turn it over to IT to handle.

 

What a huge mistake. An organizational policy dealing with the manner in which information is handled, regardless of whether or not HIPAA regulations apply, requires communication and coordination with legal, HR, IT, information security, risk management, archives, county clerks and other divisions within your organization. It’s not a tech issue; it’s a high-level, interdisciplinary executive function. It is an information governance (IG) issue, and it shouldn’t be handed off to your IT director or CIO to address unilaterally.'

Trust but verify

There are a number of reasons why IT should not be delegated sole responsibility for organizational information security. For one, a successful information security program requires checks, balances, and oversight. Trust but verify! A successful program also requires expert knowledge of departmental business processes that often exceeds the knowledge of the IT staff. Moreover, if your department heads have equivalent status within the organization, it is not appropriate for a CIO or IT director to unilaterally dictate policy to his or her colleagues of equal status. There are far too many IT departments that have adversarial relations with their end users because of their autocratic and often illogical decrees. Information security requires a team approach with executive and board oversight.

Extend HIPAA to your enterprise

If you have covered entities in your organization and have limited or nonexistent enterprise security policies, I would recommend that you consider building your entire enterprise information security policy on the HIPAA Security Rule in order to raise the entire organization up to that level while also getting compliant with federal law.

 

Why? It is highly probable that your organization uses shared facilities, shared IT infrastructure and shared services. Multiple information security levels create a significant management challenge and are certain to cause chaos and confusion. Multiple security stances will lead to security gaps and ultimately to breaches. Keep it simple and operate at the highest standard using generally accepted good practices.

Develop your policy with the HIPAA Security Rule

There are two major components to HIPAA, the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule. For the purpose of this discussion, only the Security Rule matters, but we’ll definitely discuss privacy another day.

The original HIPAA Security Rule document, 45 CFR Parts 160, 162 and 164 Health Insurance Reform: Security Standards; Final Rule, is 49 pages of small print. However, the meat of the document is contained within the final six pages and includes a handy matrix on page 48 (8380 of the federal register).

The security standards in HIPAA are broken down into three sections, each of which has multiple layers and subcomponents:

  • Administrative Safeguards (9 components)
  • Physical Safeguards (4 components)
  • Technical Safeguards (5 components)

 

These three major areas break down into at least 43 separate policy areas where your organization must build safeguards, including risk analysis, contingency planning, backup, passwords, HR sanctions and terminations, disaster recovery, encryption and many more.

 

Using the components in the matrix should enable you and your IG committee to quickly generate a suite of security policies and procedures that, when implemented and enforced, will vastly improve your current information security stance.

 

These are all policy areas that must be addressed as a matter of good practice whether or not you are a covered entity. This is why HIPAA is an excellent starting point for municipal governments that are infosec policy deficient.

Next Steps

1. Find out where your organization stands in terms of information security policies and procedures.

2. Find out whether or not you have covered entities in your organization. Must you comply with HIPAA? Are you compliant?

3. Meet with your IG committee to discuss your findings.

4. If you don’t have an IG committee — start one!

5. Download and review the HIPAA Security Rule. Use it to build your organization’s information security policies.

6. Use either the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) approach or the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) approach to maintaining continuous improvement.

7. Begin building a culture of security in your organization.

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OCR addresses application of HIPAA privacy rule to Workplace Wellness Programs

OCR addresses application of HIPAA privacy rule to Workplace Wellness Programs | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Healthcare providers are accustomed to the privacy and security rules contained within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA” or the “Act”) – particularly as they apply to the careful management of patient information. On April 24, 2015, the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued important guidance regarding HIPAA’s application to employee health and wellness programs. OCR is responsible for enforcing the Act’s privacy and security rules.


The HIPAA privacy and security rules generally apply to “covered entities” – defined as (1) A health plan; (2) A health care clearinghouse; or (3) A health care provider who transmits any health information in electronic. The rules also apply to “business associates.” The Act is most often associated with medical records generated by a health care provider. An employer – solely by hiring and paying an employee – is not impacted by the obligations of the Act. In general, the Act does not apply to an employee’s employment records.

OCR’s recent guidance addresses two important issues: 1) when does the Act extend to an employer’s health and wellness program; and 2) when may a health plan provide a sponsor employer with access to a participant’s protected health information (PHI).


The recent guidance makes clear that the application of the Act depends upon the structure of the employer’s health and wellness plan. Note that a health plan is a “covered entity” and is subject to the Act. OCR noted that a health and wellness program that is offered to employees as part of the employer’s health plan benefit is covered by the Act and its rules. A health and wellness program that is not part of a health plan is not covered by the Act and its rules – though other federal and state laws may apply to protect the confidential nature of such information.


In many instances, an employer (as the health plan’s sponsor) may administer the health and wellness program (among other elements of the plan). A health plan (a “covered entity” and subject to the Act) may provide an employer-sponsor access to an employee’s health information under limited circumstances where the employer-sponsor is involved in administering the program. In particular, the employer-sponsor may provide access to the employee’s PHI only to permit the employer-sponsor to perform its administrative functions and agree to modify its plan documents and certify that it will:


  1. Establish adequate separation between employees who perform plan administration functions and those who do not;
  2. Not use or disclose PHI for employment-related actions or other purposes not permitted by the Privacy Rule;
  3. Where electronic PHI is involved, implement reasonable and appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect the information, including by ensuring that there are firewalls or other security measures in place to support the required separation between plan administration and employment functions; and report to the group health plan any unauthorized use or disclosure, or other security incident, of which it becomes aware.


Health plans and employers (particularly those within the health care industry where HIPAA awareness is already high) should be prepared to proactively address the protection of and access afforded to an employee-participants’ PHI. In addition, since the health plan (as a “covered entity”) has specific obligations related to any PHI breach, health plan and employer-sponsor should carefully and thoroughly review the privacy and security protection provided to all employee-participant PHI.


If an employee-sponsor does not perform administrative functions on behalf of the health plan, access to an employee-participant’s PHI is further limited. In particular, in such instances, the health plan may only disclose: 1) information on which individuals are participating in the plan or enrolled in the health insurance issuer or HMO offered by the plan; and 2) summary health information to the extent requested for purposes of modifying the plan or obtaining premium bids for coverage under the plan.


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De-Identifcation of Data: Breaking Down HIPAA Rules

De-Identifcation of Data: Breaking Down HIPAA Rules | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

The de-identification of data is an important part of healthcare technology, especially as the use of EHRs and HIEs becomes more prominent. The HIPAA Privacy Rule states that once data has been de-identified, covered entities can use or disclose it without any limitation. The information is no longer considered PHI, and does not fall under the same regulations and restrictions as PHI.


But why would a facility need to de-identify data? What are the potential benefits of the de-identification of data? HealthITSecurity.com decided to dissect this aspect of HIPAA regulations, and explain what the de-identifcation process entails and how covered entities could benefit from the practice.


What is de-identification?


The de-identification of data is where identifiers are removed from PHI, which helps mitigate privacy risks to individuals. Moreover, the medical information can then be used in areas such as research, policy assessment, and comparative effectiveness studies. As explained by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the Privacy Rule has two de-identification methods:


  • A formal determination by a qualified expert;
  • The removal of specified individual identifiers as well as absence of actual knowledge by the covered entity that the remaining information could be used alone or in combination with other information to identify the individual.


Even so, HHS cautions that once the de-identification process has taken place, there is still a small chance that the data could be linked back its corresponding individual.


“Regardless of the method by which de-identification is achieved, the Privacy Rule does not restrict the use or disclosure of de-identified health information, as it is no longer considered protected health information,” according to HHS.


What are the different types of de-identification?

The first type of de-identification is done through expert determination. A person “with appropriate knowledge of and experience” in rendering data unidentifiable will apply the necessary methods to determine that the risk to the data is small. From there, that individual will document the methods and results, proving how he or she came to the determination that the data had been de-identified.


The second method is called the “Safe Harbor” method. In this approach, a CE is permitted to consider data to be de-identified if it removes 18 types of identifiers. Some of the types of identifiers include:

  • Names
  • Telephone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Social Security numbers
  • Medical record numbers


The next stipulation in the Safe Harbor method is that the CE does not have any knowledge that the data could be used alone or in combination with other information to determine an individual’s identification from it.


“De-identified health information created following these methods is no longer protected by the Privacy Rule because it does not fall within the definition of PHI,” HHS stated. “Of course, de-identification leads to information loss which may limit the usefulness of the resulting health information in certain circumstances.”


Can you re-identify the data?


The data can go through a re-identification process. This requires a unique code be assigned to the set of de-identified health information. From there, two provisions must occur:

Derivation – The code or other means of record identification is not derived from or related to information about the individual and is not otherwise capable of being translated so as to identify the individual; and

Security – The covered entity does not use or disclose the code or other means of record identification for any other purpose, and does not disclose the mechanism for re-identification.


Why would a CE de-identify data?


As mentioned earlier, there are several reasons why a CE would want to de-identify certain information. By removing certain personal identifiers, the data is no longer considered PHI, and can therefore be used in many other situations. For example, certain types of research or comparative studies could benefit from medical information. But to ensure the identify of individuals remains hidden, specific pieces of information could be removed.


The examples below show how an individual expert could de-identify data. The first table shows PHI and the second has had some identifiers removed.


The second table shows suppressed patient values. Suppression can be used on individual records if they are deemed too risky to share, or if a particular record is found to be distinguishable. For example, an individual in a specific zip code who makes $200,000 per year could be easily identifiable, especially if the majority of other residents make significantly less.


Other methods in removing data are generalization and perturbation. Generalization is where data is abbreviated, such as removing numbers in a zip code or changing patient ages from a specific number to age ranges (i.e. 25 to 35 instead of 27 year-old).


Perturbation replaces specific values with new, also specific values. For example, a patient’s age could actually be 16, but after the de-identification it is within two years of that age. This approach is often used to maintain statistical properties about the original data, such as mean or variance, according to HHS.


“Using such methods, the expert will prove that the likelihood an undesirable event (e.g., future identification of an individual) will occur is very small,” HHS explained.


The future of de-identification


Health data sharing is becoming an increasingly popular topic. More companies want to further genetic research in order to find cures for diseases or new treatment methods. However, it is critical that CEs remain  HIPAA compliant throughout the entire process. Whether an organization wants to assist in research or compile comparative data for its own uses, the de-identification of data is essential in keeping patient information as secure as possible.




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Why HIPAA Risk Assessments are Only the Tip of the Iceberg

Why HIPAA Risk Assessments are Only the Tip of the Iceberg | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Last year, several high profile security incidents occurred at healthcare organizations where a HIPAA Risk Assessment (HSRA) had previously been conducted. This should provoke some pointed questions: Was the HSRA comprehensive enough? Was the remediation plan implemented correctly and in a timely manner? Was an ongoing process of risk management adopted? In this webinar, attendees will learn why HSRA's are a necessary but not sufficient part of maintaining the security of protected health information (PHI).

  • What qualifies as a comprehensive HIPAA risk analysis?;
  • Learn why HIPAA Risk Assessments are necessary but not sufficient;
  • What are the elements of an ongoing security risk management program?
  • What else can be done to lower the risk of hacking incidents?.
Background

HIPAA Risk Assessments are a valuable component of a healthcare organization's information security program. They fulfill a mandatory requirement of the HIPAA Security Rule, Omnibus Rule, and where applicable, the EHR Meaningful Use Incentive Program. Compliance, however, is not synonymous with security.

The purpose of an HSRA is to identify threats and vulnerabilities. But without a comprehensive remediation and ongoing risk management plan, the HSRA itself is of little value. Further, many HSRA's are too limited in scope, focusing only on policies or "low-hanging" fruit while ignoring more critical and complex risks.

From 2010-2013, the vast majority of breaches of PHI resulted from lost or stolen portable devices. In 2014, the landscape changed. Hackers went on the attack, attracted by high value of data stores of PHI. Millions of health records were stolen. Hackers typically exploit vulnerabilities in the network infrastructure or in web applications. In addition, individual credentials are often compromised through "phishing" email attacks. Were these risks identified in your HSRA?

In this webinar, attendees will learn how these critical risk factors can be reduced through penetration testing, web application assessments, social engineering testing, and security awareness training.

  • Learn why HIPAA compliance isn't everything;
  • Better understand the IT threat landscape;
  • Determine your organization's level of "security readiness"
  • Discover new security tactics for lowering your risk of PHI data breach.


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Employees could leave health systems vulnerable to hacks

Employees could leave health systems vulnerable to hacks | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Healthcare organizations are vulnerable to cyberattacks in many ways, with a big threat being a company or hospital's own employees, according to Ari Baranoff, assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Secret Service's Criminal Investigative Division.

"Your workforce is a potential vulnerability to your network," Baranoff tells Healthcare IT Security. "Constantly educating your workforce and testing your workforce on their cyberhygiene is very important."

Even if employees mean no harm, just by browsing the Internet or checking their email they can put networks at risk, Baranoff says. It's especially dangerous if these activities are done using the same system that houses electronic health records or other hospital information.

In addition, employee information is also something that often is at risk and can raise problems for hospitals. The Secret Service has seen growing interest in extortion and ransomware campaigns in the healthcare industry, according to Baranoff.

However, a great deal of the threats to health systems come from the outside world, he adds.

For instance, recent breach at Sony Pictures, the health information of employees was hacked, including a memo with treatment and diagnosis details about an employee's child with special needs, as well as a spreadsheet from a human resources folder containing birth dates, health conditions and medical costs.

Data breaches are expected to increase in 2015, with healthcare "a vulnerable and attractive target for cybercriminals," according to Experian's 2015 Data Breach Industry Forecast.

Electronic medical records and consumer-generated data from wearables and other devices will continue to add to the vulnerability and complexity in securing personal health information, according to the report.

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Why health groups should make use of cyberthreat intelligence

Why health groups should make use of cyberthreat intelligence | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

As cyberattacks grow in number and organizations find more ways to access private data, the healthcare industry should make use of cyberthreat intelligence, according to Jeff Bell, HIMSS privacy and security committee chair.

Cyberthreat intelligence, Bell writes in a recent blog post, is actionable data about threats, malware and vulnerabilities that organizations can use to increase their security systems.

There are numerous sources for this kind of intelligence, including non-commercial entities like the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance, Bell says.

Vendors of security products also often have their own intelligence feeds, he adds.

This kind of intelligence is increasingly necessary as cyberattacks become more sophisticated, Bell says. Today there are advanced persistent threats, which he says are instances where hackers gain access to information without being detected for long periods of time. Operating system vulnerabilities, such as Shellshock and the Heartbleed bug, also are causing problems in the industry. 

"[H]ealthcare organizations should evaluate the effectiveness of their cybersecurity program and make improvements where appropriate," Bell writes. "Consider how cyberthreat intelligence can help your healthcare organization to improve the ability to prevent, detect, respond and recover from cyberattacks."

Throughout all industries, cyberattacks made headlines last year, with healthcare information one of the top targets.

One of the most recent attacks was on Sony Pictures, where documents obtained by the hackers include health information on dozens of employees, their children or spouses, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

For 2015, particular challenges to the healthcare industry could include an increase of phishing emails that try to lure recipients into giving out information such as usernames, passwords or credit card numbers. They also can give attackers ways to infiltrate the enterprise network.


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Will 2015 be worst year yet for data breaches? | Government Health IT

Will 2015 be worst year yet for data breaches? | Government Health IT | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

This past year the FBI warned the entire healthcare realm that security practices are not keeping pace with other industries. And a new report is suggesting that healthcare organizations should expect even more data breaches in the New Year.

Indeed, that means bigger and more costly violations. Global information services firm Experian, in its second annual data breach forecast, cites the growing potential entry points to protected health information, wearables and other mobile devices as among the new technologies making healthcare vulnerable — while other studies in 2014 pointed to healthcare organizations’ widespread lack of confidence in securing PHI. 

Experian is not the only firm saying data privacy and security will get worse in healthcare.

Consultancy IDC’s Health Insights unit, in fact, included two interesting points in its yearly top 10 predictions for healthcare: First, healthcare entities will have experienced at least one and as many as five cyber attacks in the previous 12 months, with one-third of those considered successful, and, second, by 2020 approximately half of all digital health data will be unprotected.


At the same time, attacks will not only grow more sophisticated but, in some ways, be easier to pull off moving forward.

“From 2015 onward, we will see attackers use social media to hunt for high-value targets. They will no longer limit themselves to instigating watering-hole attacks and using spear-phishing emails,” security specialist Trend Micro wrote in its predictions. “They will dramatically expand the attack surface to include Wi-Fi-enabled wearable devices running vulnerable firmware.”

Such vulnerable firmware, it’s worth pointing out, resides in many medical devices of all sorts, not just wearables. 

Symantec, meanwhile, explained the growth in popularity of “crimeware-as-a-service,” on the black market.

“Attackers can easily rent the entire infrastructure needed to run a botnet or any other online scams,” Symantec wrote in a December blog post. “This makes cybercrime easily accessible for budding criminals who do not have the technical skills to run an attack campaign on their own.” 

Security vendor Websense, which focuses on a range of industries, laid down its own prognostications for 2015. The first one: “Call the IT doctor. My hospital is under attack – again!”

“The healthcare industry is a prime target for cybercriminals,” Carl Leonard, principal analyst of Websense Security Labs, said in a report. “With millions of patient records now in digital form, healthcare’s biggest security challenge in 2015 will be keeping personally identifiable information from falling through security cracks and into the hands of hackers.”


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