Cosmetic Practice Fined – No one is immune from HIPAA

April 15, 2021

By Suze Shaffer | Aris Medical Solutions

Recently a cosmetic practice was fined $30,000 to settle potential HIPAA Privacy Rule violations. In the past many practices believed if they did not accept insurance payments (considered as a “transaction” under HIPAA), they were immune from the privacy rule. This may not be the case. There is a section in the rule that states “Other transactions that the Secretary may prescribe by regulation”.  HIPAA compliance is a balancing act, are you willing to lose $30K of your hard-earned money to test the system?

This investigation started with a compliant from a patient that had requested their medical record and did not receive them in a timely manner. Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, the provider must respond to a patient’s request for access no later than 30 calendar days after the request. If the covered entity is not able to act within this timeframe, the entity may have up to an additional 30 calendar days if they provide the individual (within the initial 30-day period) with a written statement for the reason of the delay and include a date when the entity will have the information available. See 45 CFR §164.524(b)(2). Unfortunately for this practice, this was not handled in a timely manner. Therefore, an investigation was launched.

Let us review how this happens.

Once a complaint is filed to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the OCR will determine if the complaint falls within their duties to investigate. Once an investigation has been opened, the OCR will contact the practice for their documentation surrounding the incident. Depending on the documentation that is submitted will determine if a desk audit is warranted. Therefore, documentation is SO important, you may be able to avoid a desk audit if you supply the appropriate documents.

During a desk audit more than likely, you will be asked for documentation of what preventative measures you had in place before the incident and what you have implemented to prevent this from happening again. While you are being investigated the OCR may also review your compliance in other areas. If they find discrepancies, you could be fined for those as well. HIPAA encompasses a large range of requirements. Patient privacy, patient rights, and data security to name a few. I will not go into detail during this notification since we are sharing the security rule requirements in other messages.

Each resolution agreement that is issued by the HHS/OCR outlines the deficiencies they uncover. Most of them include the lack of a risk analysis, risk management, training, business associate agreements, and policies and procedures. During this investigation, other violations were uncovered and included the social security act was named in the resolution agreement: Section 1128A of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 1320a- 7a) a.

From this, I hope you can understand the importance of HIPAA compliance. Because one simple oversight can cause this much heartache. Patient privacy, patient rights, and data security is as important as caring for your patients. We have just learned that any entity that has patient data can be investigated and fined for violations under HIPAA.

Tell your friends and colleagues to ensure everyone understands no one is immune from HIPAA if you have patient data. Fines are fierce and not worth taking a chance by thinking “it won’t happen to me”.

If you need assistance with HIPAA Training, Risk Management, or guidance with your HIPAA Compliance contact us at 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form. 

 

“Simplifying HIPAA through Partnership, Education, and Support” 

Responsibilities of a HIPAA Compliance Officer

While the nation was shut down and people were suffering, hackers were busy at work. It is coming to light how many organizations have had a data breach and have been hit with ransomware.

Now more than ever all organizations need to make sure their HIPAA Compliance Officer understands what is needed for data security. The FBI has stated cybercrime in 2020 has surpassed 2019 and we still have a few months to go. The problem is the hackers have become very sophisticated in their attacks. Whereas it used to be easy to spot a fake email, that is no longer the case. Between email and text efforts, they are gaining access to our information and we are the ones permitting it. Also, user credentials are compromised and used to gain access to your network or to send false emails to gather personal information. These scams typically involve a criminal that has hacked a legitimate email address. For example, a person would receive a message that appears to be from someone within their organization or a business associate with which that person knows. The message will request a payment, wire transfer, gift card purchase, or even a list of employees with social security numbers that seems legitimate. The compliance officer should be notified, and the transaction verified BEFORE it is completed. Every office needs to have a verification process in place before releasing ANY data.

We have said this before… if a stranger walked up to you and asked you to verify your identity would you give them any information? Of course not, but that is exactly what we are doing when we receive an email or text message from someone or somewhere, we trust. Trust, but verify.

With more and more people working remotely, that brings us to another vulnerability. Covered entities that utilize the services of business associates are required by HIPAA to ensure the business associate is in fact HIPAA compliant. The starting point is to ensure you have a business associate agreement in place with all your vendors that create, receive, maintain, or transmit protected health information (PHI). This agreement should include security requirements to ensure they are protecting your patient data. If a covered entity does not have a BA agreement in place and the vendor causes a data breach, the covered entity will more than likely receive the fine. With a BA agreement in place, it is still typical the covered entity bears the financial burden of the breach but may not receive the fines. That is why a BA agreement should include an indemnification and requiring the business associate to carry cyber liability insurance. Recently, a business associate was fined $2.3 million for a data breach that was caused by a hacking incident. If the covered entities did not have BA agreements in place, they could have been the ones who received this hefty penalty. Also, recently an orthopedic clinic was fined $1.5 million after a journalist notified them that a database of their patient information was posted for sale online. For this reason, we recommend covered entities should carry their own policies as well. “Hacking is the number one source of large health care data breaches. Health care providers that fail to follow the HIPAA Security Rule make their patients’ health data a tempting target for hackers,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. Many electronic and portable devices are used to process and store PHI. Anyone with access to such devices could potentially have the ability to change configurations, install malicious programs, change information, or access information that are not authorized to. Any of these actions has the potential to affect the integrity of patient information. HIPAA requires covered entities and their business associates to implement and follow policies and procedures to limit access to only those who are authorized.

Risk management should be at the top of everyone’s list. Preventing data breaches and securing patient data is everyone’s responsibility, but the OCR requires someone to be the point person, hence the HIPAA Security or Compliance Officer title. This responsibility is so much more than just a title. HIPAA Compliance Officers responsibilities include creating, maintaining, and enforcing compliance. This includes the staff, management, and even the medical providers.  I hear too often that the compliance officer gets push back from the doctors or owners. This is so unfortunate since they are only trying to do their job that is required under state and federal law. They are the frontline defense in keeping your practice alive and well. The owners of the practice may suffer the financial loss, but sometimes everyone does if the practice closes. Let’s all work together to keep patient data safe and secure.

If you need assistance with HIPAA Security training or guidance with your HIPAA Compliance contact us at 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form.

Telemedicine on the other side of the Pandemic

By Suze Shaffer

July 15, 2020

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) back in March relaxed it’s enforcement for non-compliance with regards to telemedicine. They permitted the use of audio/video communication applications such as Facetime, Google hangouts, Zoom, and Skype without risk that a provider could be issued a penalty for non-compliance. Providers were encouraged to inform their patients of potential privacy risks and do their best to engage encryption and whatever means they had available to secure the data.

Even though some states are experiencing a surge in more COVID cases, medical providers are expected to seek HIPAA qualified products and obtain a business associate agreement. Telehealth providers should now have an agreement ready that will include state law provisions and data security information. Medical providers should read this agreement carefully to ensure the data security is outlined and meets their state law breach notification guidelines. Ideally, it would be best for the vendor to sign YOUR business associate agreement if you have one that has outlined security requirements.

If a medical provider does not obtain a signed business associate from a vendor, the medical provider should terminate using the vendor. Just because a vendor doesn’t sign a BAA it does NOT release them from liability. It just means the liability falls on the medical provider for not obtaining the signed document. Furthermore, the medical provider may receive fines for non-compliance should the business associate suffer a data breach or security incident. These documents are extremely important!

Many thanks to all our healthcare workers for staying strong throughout these trying times.

If you would like more information or need a business associate agreement, contact us at 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form.

“Simplifying HIPAA through Partnership, Education, and Support”

Cell phone use in the workplace causing distrust

By Suze Shaffer

March 15, 2020

We all have been annoyed at one time or another when we arrive at a counter or a place of business and the person is on their cell phone and we are ignored. Of course, that is not very good customer service. When you work in healthcare, it goes to an all new level. HIPAA doesn’t restrict the use of cell phones, except how they are secured and protected. However, this is not what we are discussing here today.

We are hearing about complaints from patients accusing employees of taking pictures of their information. This particular situation the employee was accused of taking pictures of the computer screen and the patient told the doctor. This afforded the doctor the opportunity to address the situation and avoid a formal complaint to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). We recommend employees leaving their cell phones out of sight of patients unless the phone is used for business purposes within the practice. Some organizations are even adding cell phone lockers. I can remember before we had cell phones, we actually gave out our work number to anyone who needed to get in contact with us! Now you know how old I really am! Joking aside, this is a very serious matter that could cause the OCR to open an investigation. Keep in mind, when you are being investigated by the OCR, they do not “just” investigate “that” situation. They look at your overall compliance plan. Where are your policies? What were your procedures before, during, and after the occurrence. What have you done to prevent the same situation from happening again? Plus, many more items they take into consideration when conducting an investigation.

The next area of concern with cell phones are with patients. We have long been a proponent of using privacy screens on computers. Now, even if the screen is across the room, we are pushing our clients to add the screens. Patients now have their phones out while making new appointments, they could potentially take pictures of computer screens across the room and enlarge them. Some of you may be thinking that we worry too much and all this security is driving you crazy. It only takes ONE mistake or ONE complaint to turn your life into a rollercoaster. Prevention is the best medicine!

If you would like more information, contact us at 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form.

“Simplifying HIPAA through Partnership, Education, and Support”

Heavy fines demonstrate the importance of a network security audit…

data locked

When we discuss IT security, we generally think of a company that maintains our computer network. That is partially true, but that is just the beginning. There is a difference between maintaining your network and securing it. There are a lot of companies that are eager to maintain your network because you pay them a monthly fee to do so. Maintaining a network is making sure updates are done, anti-virus / anti-malware are current, upgrading any technology that is outdated or about to be unsupported. A network security company tests to see if there are any open vulnerabilities that could affect or infect your network. There is a huge difference between the two.
For example, a misconfigured settings of a Windows operating system permitted access to files containing PHI without requiring a username or password. Then two years later a second breach occurred when a server was misconfigured following an IT’s response to troubleshooting an issue, this time it exposed patient information over the internet. These two breaches cost Cottage Health a $3M fine. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation found that they had not conducted an accurate and thorough assessment and failed to implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level based on the size of their organization. Even though they had an IT company maintaining their ePHI system, they failed to obtain a signed business associate agreement.
https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/cottage/index.html
Another breach that happened in 2014 has just been settled by the OCR. Touchstone Medical Imaging has been ordered to also pay $3M. The OCR and the FBI informed Touchstone in 2014 that one it’s FTP servers allowed uncontrolled access to ePHI. The uncontrolled access permitted search engines to index the patients personal information, which remained visible after the server was taken offline.
https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2019/05/06/tennessee-diagnostic-medical-imaging-services-company-pays-3000000-settle-breach.html
The lesson here is, what you do today can affect your business in the years to come. Make sure you are doing what is reasonable and appropriate to safeguard your patient information. One more keep point, these are just the federal fines. All 50 states now have their own set of privacy laws to protect personal identifiable information that doesn’t have anything to do with health information. Since we work in healthcare, we must adhere to state and federal privacy laws. No longer can you ignore the elephant (HIPAA) in the room, HIPAA is here to stay and you need to choose wisely who you work with to secure your data.

If you haven’t conducted an audit this year, now is a good time to schedule one to ensure your data is secure. If you would like more information on network security audits, contact us at 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form.

2019 HIPAA Updates

 

HIPAA Update post it with thumb tack

As we start this new year we must reflect what we have learned from 2018 in order to make 2019 a success.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has gained momentum in enforcing HIPAA violations. With that said HIPAA is an ongoing process and once is not enough. It is not considered done unless it is documented. At the annual conference this past year, the OCR admitted they are adamant on ensuring your patient’s information is protected. Therefore, you must document your compliance. If you say you did something, they will ask for your documentation. If you do not have documentation, you will be fined.

Companies located in United States are now required to adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) if they market goods and services to citizens of the European Union (EU). You must ensure the security of the data as well as inform visitors to your website how you intend to use their data. This must be clearly written in your privacy notice on website. This is not to be confused with your Notice of Privacy Practices that you give to your patients. If you plan on marketing to visitors from your website, you must offer them a free opt-out option. We could go on in more detail on this subject, but since many medical clinics do not market to international patients, you may contact us for more information.

Here are a few things to review and update as necessary:

  1. Risk analysis and risk management plan, this is your documentation to demonstrate what risks you have (had) and how you have mitigated them or plan to mitigate them.
  2. Replacing or updating any outdated technology, hardware and software require updates from time to time. You can be fined for utilizing outdated hardware/software that is no longer supported by the manufacturer.
  3. Adding a second authentication process for access to ePHI as well as for online personal accounts.
  4. HIPAA training, ensuring your employees understand how to protect your data is also part of this training.
  5. Making sure you have all of the necessary privacy and security policies, procedures, and forms in place. This means reading and dating them to demonstrate they were actually implemented.
  6. Retaining your documentation for the required time limit, including correspondence with patients that are considered to be part of their medical record.
  7. Reviewing your website, determining if your site collects any data and how it is transmitted and stored.

If you see something in your workplace that looks suspicious, tell your HIPAA Compliance Officer, you could be the one to prevent a data breach or stop a data breach from becoming a major breach (over 500 patient records). Keeping data secure is everyone’s business. Being mindful of our surroundings and educating others helps all of us in this crazy world we live in now!

 

Do you have all of your HIPAA training documented?

 

What do you know about HIPAA enforcement?HIPAA Doctor EKG
Just imagine you were investigated by CMS or the OCR, what would they find?
How confident are you in your medical and/or HIPAA documentation?
Do you have the appropriate documentation to protect your organization?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is very serious about ensuring your organization is educating employees on patient rights and securing PHI. During a recent investigation in Florida an organization was fined $100K for each year they could not produce documented HIPAA training. The first year they only had 3 employees! They were fined for five years, $500K. Once you are under investigation, they review ALL of your documentation, not just what they originally requested. You do not want to end up being in the willful and wanton neglect category. This is where the big fines are calculated.

If you have a patient complaint or suffer a data breach, the best advice is to document, document, AND document! OH, did I mention… DOCUMENT? Next, cooperation. If they ask for something, give it to them. Nothing more, nothing less, but give them what they ask for. Show the OCR you are trying to do the right thing. After all, how would you like it if the information that was compromised was yours? Wouldn’t you want the organization to do what they could to stop the breach or prevent another one from happening?

Remember the MD Anderson in Texas fines? They had multiple devices lost containing unencrypted ePHI. They claimed that they were not obligated to encrypt its devices, and stated that the ePHI that was involved was for “research,” and thus was not subject to the HIPAA non-disclosure requirements. They challenged the OCR and the Judge ruled in favor of the OCR and MD anderson was ordered to pay $4,348,000 in civil money penalties. The quote from OCR Director Roger Severino: “OCR is serious about protecting health information privacy and will pursue litigation, if necessary, to hold entities responsible for HIPAA violations”.

At the NIST/OCR conference in Washington DC, the director along with other members of the OCR staff reminded organizations about enforcement. This is NOT going away. Patient information is extremely valuable to criminals. The days of just a slap on the wrist because you didn’t conduct risk assessment, conduct HIPAA training, or you can’t prove your HIPAA compliance is over. Every organization that has anything to do with patient information must get on board and understand HIPAA. There is NO certificate to prove you are HIPAA compliant, the proof is in your documentation. So I ask one more time… How well do you trust your HIPAA documentation?

 

Data breaches of 2018

We hear on the news about data breaches almost daily. Some are credit card theft, our personal information being sold, and then are medical data breaches. These are extremely worrisome as this is where identity theft can start. The medical community is a major target for that very reason, medical records are the main source of complete information to steal personal information.

Do you know how many individual patient records have been compromised in 2018?

11,785,675 patient records were reported as breaches to the Office of Civil Right (OCR) in 2018 that were over 500 records per incident. Keep in mind this does NOT include breaches under 500 records.

https://ocrportal.hhs.gov/ocr/breach/breach_report.jsf;jsessionid=3F3012CA56DF3E4D79031A59CCBBBA4D

Plus 944,595 patient records that had been exposed that have already been archived according to the OCR portal.

At the NIST/OCR October conference, they talked about how medical offices use the excuse… “I didn’t know”. They also said that was not an acceptable answer any longer. They can and will fine organizations that are not HIPAA compliant. You are 4 times more likely to get hacked than to have your equipment stolen and this does not even include the breaches caused by unauthorized access. Needless to say data breaches are on the rise no matter what angle you are looking at.

So as we close out 2018 and venture into 2019…
You MUST be diligent and keep up to date on the latest technology for data security.
You MUST make sure your employees are WELL educated on data security.
You MUST document your compliance efforts.

In the words from the Office for Civil Rights, “If it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist”!

Be safe out there in the World Wide Web… it’s a wonderful but dangerous place!

 

Spoofing, Phishing, and how to avoid getting caught in the middle

 

By Aris Medical Solutions

cyber criminal

After attending the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) annual webcast, many things were confirmed that we thought may have been rumors. First of all, medical offices are targets of hacking because you hold everything needed for identity theft.

What is identity theft? Most people think of it as their credit card being stolen, or even their tax returns. True, that is identity theft but there is also another component that is not often talked about. That is, assuming someone else’s identity for health care purposes. Imagine someone assumes your identity and has a surgery and “corrects” your medical record and changes your blood type.Then, you are involved in a car accident and receive a blood transfusion but it’s the WRONG blood. Yes, this can happen. We are not sure how often, but with the rise of medical records being stolen we could see this happen more often. Knowing where your data is located and how it is stored is a starting point in protecting this valuable information. Conducting a risk analysis and having an ongoing risk management is mandatory under HIPAA. During this process you will uncover potential vulnerabilities. Once you mitigate these risks, you may be able to avoid a data breach.

Protecting yourself and your organization is one in the same. Practice these safety tips at work and at home:

  • Make sure your operating system updates are current as well as your anti-virus and anti-malware.
  • Scan for viruses and malware after every update.
  • If you use personal devices to access ePHI or work files, be sure to use enterprise versions of anti-virus and anti-malware. Free versions typically are not robust enough.
  • NEVER use free Wi-Fi even if you are not accessing any patient information. You could pick up malware from someone that has spoofed the Wi-Fi network that you thought you were logging into.
  • NEVER click on links within emails that claim to be urgent or a free offer of some type. Typical phishing expeditions start in this manner. After you click, they ask for certain information they are lacking about you or they may ask for everything! Sometimes, this is merely a tactic to get you to go to a certain website and place malware on your computer and you never even know it.
  • NEVER click on a link within an email asking you to verify your identity. You wouldn’t show a stranger on the street your driver’s license just because they asked to see it, then why would you “verify” your identity with someone invisible in your email? Again, this is how spear phishing starts.
  • NEVER click on an attachment within an email unless you are expecting it, even if you know the person that sent it. Their email could have been hacked and you are being spoofed into thinking it is from them. This includes messages from FedEx, UPS, and the IRS. Best practices is to open your web browser and go to their website and sign in.
  • NEVER click on links in text messages unless you are expecting one, such as you just signed up for text messages from a service provider. Bank customers are being spoofed into clicking on links in text messages and taking you to what looks like your bank. Guess what… it’s NOT your bank but looks like it!

I have said this before… the World Wide Web (WWW) is the new Wild Wild West. The only difference is, in the old wild wild west you could see danger coming on the horizon and prepare. The World Wide Web, the dangers are there, but they are invisible.

Be safe out there!

If you would like to schedule a HIPAA training course customized to your facility, or if you need to update any of your HIPAA security needs call 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form.

“Simplifying HIPAA through Partnership, Education, and Support”

Cost of cyber attacks on healthcare are steadily rising

 

By Aris Medical Solutions

HIPAA medical hacker

Why are so many medical offices being attacked? Simple, this is a one stop shop for everything needed for identity theft and many medical practices do not have appropriate safeguards in place. Business associates have even been the target or the entry point. HIPAA requires certain security safeguards to be in place to ensure the safety and security of Protected Health Information (PHI).

There have been 188 data breaches of 500 or more patient records in the first 6 months of this year, and in April alone there were 42. Thirteen of the 188 have already been resolved. https://ocrportal.hhs.gov/ocr/breach/breach_report.jsf
These breaches include small medical practices, business associates, and hospitals. Small and large. Paper and electronic. No one is immune. Many organizations think they are too small to get hit, but the fact is the most common problem is untrained staff that unknowingly cause this to happen. Education is the key to avoiding this catastrophe from destroying your reputation. Of course you still need to certain technical safeguards in place, but even then it only takes one click of a mouse to bring your network down.

Here are some areas to consider:

  1. How would you process a data breach?
  2. How would you handle the reputation management of the breach?
  3. How would you pay for the cost of breach and the investigations?

Having a breach notification plan in place before a breach occurs is critical to reducing the damage. You must have processing in place to shut the system down, continue manually, and report to the appropriate authorities.

Consider the lack of trust from your patients since their information was compromised from your office. No matter if it was your fault or that of a business associate this could have a negative impact on your patient database.

Breaches are costly on many fronts, the first being the cost of the notification of the patients, investigations, downtime, and the mitigation of the source of the breach. In 2013 the Ponemon Institute reported that a data breach cost $233 per medical record, now in the 2018 the report states a healthcare breach can cost on average $408 per medical record.
https://www.ibm.com/security/data-breach

Keep in mind if you do not know which records were breached then everyone must be included in the notification process. What could turn out to be the most costly is the fines and penalties associated with the breach. Depending on how and when you processed the breach is one determining factor. Also once the investigation is complete, if it is discovered this was an ongoing problem and was not mitigated, then you could be found in willful and wanton neglect. This is NOT a place you want to find yourself! The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can also fine you for not conducting a thorough enough risk analysis thus leaving vulnerabilities untouched. How well do you trust your efforts in securing your data? Have you conducted a risk assessment to determine if what you have in place is sufficient?

How can Aris help?

  • First of all we conduct a thorough risk analysis that uncovers vulnerabilities and create a risk management plan so that you can mitigate those risks.
  • Since written documentation is also part of HIPAA compliance, we provide the necessary privacy and security policies, procedures, and documentation needed for state and federal regulatory requirements.
  • We also offer HIPAA training that includes privacy and security and any custom requests.
  • If you are one of the many organizations that simply do not have the time to implement your HIPAA program, we can do that for you as well. Month to month, no long term contracts!

If you would like a free HIPAA checkup call 877.659.2467 or complete the contact us form.

“Simplifying HIPAA  through Partnership, Education, and Support”

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