Allergy Associates of Hartford has agreed to pay $125,000 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for an alleged violation of HIPAA. The incident occurred in February 2015. A patient reached out to a local TV station about a dispute with a doctor at Allergy Associates. When the reporter contacted the doctor for comment, the doctor improperly disclosed the patient’s PHI. After Allergy Associates learned that HHS was investigating this incident, no disciplinary action was taken against the doctor. According to the Resolution Agreement:
(1) Allergy Associates impermissibly disclosed the Complainant’s PHI to an unauthorized third party. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a).
(2) Allergy Associates failed to apply appropriate sanctions against its Workforce Member who failed to comply with the entity’s privacy policies and procedures and the Privacy Rule. See 45 C.F.R. §164.530(e)(l).
According to the HHS press release:
“When a patient complains about a medical practice, doctors cannot respond by disclosing private patient information to the media,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “Because egregious disclosures can lead to substantial penalties, covered entities need to pay close attention to HIPAA’s privacy rules, especially when responding to press inquiries.”
The press release can be viewed here. The Notice of Proposed Determination can be viewed here. The Resolution Agreement can be viewed here.
Recently, I created two new HIPAA training resources.
I created a 1-page visual summary of HIPAA, which I call the HIPAA Whiteboard. The idea was to summarize HIPAA in a concise and visually-engaging way. You can download a PDF handout version here. We’ve been licensing it to many organizations for training and awareness purposes.
HIPAA Interactive Whiteboard
I subsequently created a new training module — an interactive version of the HIPAA Whiteboard — the HIPAA Interactive Whiteboard. When people click on each topic, the program provides brief narrated background information, presented in a very understandable and memorable way. Trainees can learn at their own pace. This program is designed to be very short — it is about 5 minutes long.
It can readily be used on internal websites to raise awareness and teach basic information about HIPAA. It can also be used in learning management systems.
This week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced an agreement to settle HIPAA violations with Filefax, located in Northbrook, Illinois. One aspect was different than their usual settlement process in that Filefax closed the business down during the OCR investigation and was no longer operating when the settlement was reached. OCR announced that Filefax could not avoid their obligations under HIPAA even though they were no longer running the company. The receiver that is liquidating the company’s assets agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the potential HIPAA violations made by the company while open.
Their HIPAA violations stemmed from an anonymous complaint stating that the medical records of approximately 2,150 patients, which contained protected health information (PHI), received by Filefax had been taken to a shredding/recycling facility and sold. The OCR investigation found over a period of several weeks the PHI had been left unsecured outside Filefox and had been removed from the facility by an unauthorized person.
The press release can be viewed here. The Resolution Agreement can be viewed here.
The first quarter of 2017 is not yet over and the OCR has already released details of four enforcement penalties totaling over $11 million. 2016 set a record with $20 million in fines for the year, with $5.2 million of that coming in the first quarter. In just the first 2 months of 2017, the fines have been more than half what the entire amount for 2016 was. Here are details about enforcement actions in 2017 thus far:
Illinois health care network, Presence Health, was fined $475,000 for failing to notify patients of a breach within the 60-day period. The incident took place over 3 years ago. In October 2013, operating room schedules that were written on paper and contained PHI of 836 individuals went missing. Patients were not notified of the breach until February of 2014. This represents the first enforcement related to the timeliness of breach notification.
An insurance company, MAPFRE, was fined $2.2 million for failure to safeguard portable devices and poor risk assessment and risk management. OCR found that MAPFRE did not have an adequate security awareness training program in place for their workforce. In 2011, an unsecured USB device containing the ePHI of 2,209 individuals was stolen from the company’s IT department. Despite the corrective measures MAPFRE indicated it would take, it did not actually start securing portable devices until 3 years after the incident.
Children’s Medical Center of Dallas received a $3.2 million fine for multiple incidents where devices with unsecured ePHI were stolen. In 2010 an unencrypted Blackberry was stolen with the ePHI of 3,800 individuals. In 2013, an unencrypted laptop was stolen with ePHI of 2,463 individuals. The OCR investigation discovered that the hospital did not begin to secure and safeguard workstations and portable devices until 2013 despite being aware of the risks for many years.
Florida corporation, Memorial Healthcare System, agreed to pay a fine of $5.5 million. This ties Advocate Health Care Network’s fine in August of 2016 for the record of highest penalty. In this incident, the PHI of 115,143 patients was improperly accessed and disclosed. Memorial Healthcare failed to terminate a former employee’s log-in credentials which was then used to access 80,000 records with PHI over the course of an entire year. The company also neglected to review the activity within the system that would have identified that the records were being improperly accessed. Memorial discovered the breach while investigating two employees who were stealing patient information to file fake tax returns.
Not too long ago, I posted an overview of OCR’s enforcement in 2016. OCR continues to be active in its enforcement, at its highest level to date. This is a great opportunity for privacy and security officials to point out to upper management the need for greater resources and attention to HIPAA compliance.