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Counseling service provider settles with HHS

Counseling service provider settles with HHS

A licensed counselor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, decided to settle a case with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office for Civil Rights. 


What happened:

On May 8th, A licensed counselor in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, decided to settle a case regarding a potential HIPAA violation. 

Allegedly, the counselor did not provide a patient's parent access to health information in a timely manner, which would be a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule's right of access provision. 

According to the press release, a complaint was filed in December of 2017 alleging that he did not provide a father with copies of the medical records for his 3 children. The Office for Civil Rights provided technical assistance in response to the complaint. However, when the father placed another request, he allegedly still failed to see a copy of the records. 

The Office for Civil Rights proceeded to investigate the situation and found the counselor potentially in violation of HIPAA. After the findings were released, he agreed to pay a resolution of $15,000, respond to the request for records without delay, and implement a corrective action plan to comply with HIPAA.


Why it matters:

This investigation is the 44th case resolved under HIPAA's right of access initiative, which is designed to ensure the necessary entities are compliant with HIPAA requirements. 

The Office for Civil Rights has released a guidance outlining individuals' rights of access when it comes to viewing their own protected health information. 

In the coming months, many also expect HIPAA revisions to make it easier for patients to request and view their health records. 

Read more: Major changes expected in HIPAA law this spring

The Office for Civil Rights continues to show a commitment to protecting patients' rights. They advise individuals who believe that their health information privacy or civil rights may have been violated should file a complaint.


What was said

In a statement released by the HHS, the Office for Civil Rights Director, Melanie Fontes Rainer said, "Under HIPAA, parents, as the personal representatives of their minor children, generally have a right to access their children's medical records."

"It should not take an individual or their parent representative nearly six years and multiple complaints to gain access to patient records," Fontes Rainer added. 

Fontes Rainer also made a note for other HIPAA regulated entities, saying they "should be proactive and work to ensure patients and their representatives can access records." 

Related: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide


The bottom line

The situation between Mente and the Office for Civil Rights shows the costly effects of failing to meet HIPAA's access provision ruling. HIPAA compliant entities should ensure that they respond to record requests promptly, especially as the response timeframe is expected to decrease from 30 to 15 days. 

Small practices like Mente's stand to suffer financially if they fail to meet requirements, even if the failure is due to technical issues, which may have been the case for Mente. 

Practices should make sure they are proactive in their compliance efforts and continually monitor areas of improvement. 


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