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2017 HIPAA Enforcement


Art E.V.Pavlov_by_Repin

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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Lessons from 2016, the Biggest HIPAA Enforcement Year on Record

HIPAA Enforcement

Time to call the Guinness Book of World Records because HHS has set a new world record in HIPAA enforcement.  2016 saw a considerable increase in HIPAA enforcement resolution agreements and monetary penalties.  At the end of 2016, the OCR logged over $20 million in fines for HIPAA violations from 15 enforcement actions with monetary penalties — a stark contrast to 2015 penalties which were just over $6 million from just 6 resolution agreements.

The per entity fines have increased as well increasing from about $850K in recent years to $2 million in 2016.

Also, in late 2015, the Office of the Inspector General released findings of a study that recommended a stronger enforcement and follow-up from the OCR for HIPAA violations:

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HIPAA Cartoon on Snooping

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.

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Cartoon on HIPAA Training

HIPAA Training Cartoon - Train without the pain

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.

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HIPAA Cartoon on Social Media Use

HIPAA Cartoon Social Media

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.

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