This cartoon is about snooping, one of the most common HIPAA violations. HIPAA prohibits accessing information that people don’t need to do their jobs. It can be easy to look at electronic medical records, and people who snoop in this way might not perceive it as wrong. But the cartoon invites people to imagine how creepy the snooping would appear if it were occurring right in front of patients. Computers remove the interpersonal dynamic, making it harder for people to fully appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct.
Though the high-profile, celebrity snooping incidents garner all the media attention, smaller cases affecting everyday individuals make up the bulk of the cases and legal activity. A large number of inappropriate access claims involve people checking on protected health information (PHI) about family and friends. Snooping is not intended maliciously. Often a concerned staff member will access the patient records of a family member or acquaintance out of worry or concern. In one case, a nurse in New York was fired for disclosing a patient’s medical history to warn a family member who was romantically involved with the patient of the patient’s STD.
A while ago, I wrote about a case involving a member of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team staff who improperly accessed a database of the Houston Astros. There is now an epilogue to report in the case. The individual who engaged in the illegal access — a scouting director named Chris Correa — was fired by the Cardinals, imprisoned for 46 months, and banned permanently from baseball. The Cardinals were fined $2 million by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, and they must forfeit their first two picks in the draft to the Houston Astros.
According to an article about the incident in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “As outlined in court documents, the U.S. attorney illustrated how Correa hacked Houston’s internal database, ‘Ground Control,’ 48 times during a 2½-year period. He viewed scouting reports, private medical reviews and other proprietary information. The government argued that Correa may have sought to determine if Houston borrowed the Cardinals’ data or approach, but the information he accessed was ‘keenly focused on information that coincided with the work he was doing for the Cardinals.'”
As I wrote in my piece about the case, there are several lessons to be learned. One lesson is that it is a myth that hacking and computer crime must be hi-tech. Here, Correa’s hacking was nothing sophisticated — he just used another person’s password. The person had previously worked for the Cardinals, and when he went to the Astros, he kept using the same password. In my piece, I discussed other lessons from this incident, such as the importance of teaching people good password practices as well as teaching people that just because they have access to information doesn’t make it legal to view the information. The Cardinals organization appears to have learned from the incident, as the “employee manual has been updated to illustrate what is illegal activity online,” and the organization is using two-factor authentication to protect its own sensitive data. The article doesn’t say whether the Astros also stepped up their security awareness training by teaching employees not to reuse their old passwords from another team.
For Data Privacy Day this year, I’m happy to make available for the day two new short privacy training programs I created in collaboration with Intel. Ordinarily, I require a login to view my training programs, but for this day, I have put them outside the wall for anyone to see. So click on the programs below to watch them — I’ll keep them up through the weekend. Then, they’ll go behind the wall, so you’ll need to request an evaluation login to see them afterwards.
NOTE: These programs are now no longer publicly available. To see them, please contact us.
The first program is a short 2-minute awareness video about Data Retention.
The second program is an 8.5 minute program called Defining Personal Information. It seeks to explain how to identify personal information, which is a tricky issue because what counts as personal information is not static and is contextual and contingent in some cases.
These programs were created for Intel with their collaboration. Intel graciously allowed me to add generic versions of these programs to my training course library. And in support of Data Privacy Day, Intel was encouraging of my making them publicly available.
I. Data Retention
II. Defining Personal Information
This cartoon depicts the way many people perceive HIPAA training. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When most people hear HIPAA training they prepare themselves to slog through a boring lecture filled with tedious legalese. Many have been subjected to hours of training that is overly technical, not useful for their jobs and not even close to being memorable. I designed my HIPAA training to be different. I believe that training should be fun and engaging. It should have personality. I avoid the wordy and needless filler material and focus on the key concrete things that people must know and do.
Here’s a cartoon on HIPAA and social media use to jump start your week. You can’t think enough about HIPAA these days. HIPAA audits are back, and OCR is having a vigorous enforcement year this year, something I plan to post about soon.