The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) HIPAA enforcement continues during the pandemic. This year, OCR has already settled with three covered entities (CEs) following investigations into their reported breaches. Such settlements remind healthcare organizations of the importance of HIPAA compliance and strong cybersecurity even during health crises.
In general, OCR focused on the lack of security as related to:
What is HIPAA?HIPAA is U.S. legislation created to improve health coverage standards and combat abuse related to protected health information (PHI). SEE ALSO: What is HIPAA? Or is it HIPPA? Most commonly associated with HIPAA are Title II and its significant provisions:
- Privacy Rule (2003) – covers PHI protection and compliance standards
- Security Rule (2005) – sets security standards to protect electronic PHI (ePHI)
- Enforcement Rule (2006) – sets HIPAA enforcement standards
- HITECT Act (2009) – promotes the adoption and meaningful use of technology
Recent OCR settlementsFees for the three recently settled cases— Steven A. Porter, M.D., Metropolitan Community Health Services, and Lifespan Health System Affiliated Covered Entity—total almost $1.2 million.
|Date breach filed||2013||2011||2017|
|Date settled in 2020||March 3||July 23||July 27|
|Misc. penalty||Corrective plan||Corrective plan||Corrective plan|
|# affected individuals||500||1,263||20,431|
|Type of breach||Improper disposal||Phishing||Theft of laptop|
|Why a violation||· No risk analysis conducted · Failed to implement security measures||· No risk analysis conducted · Did not adhere to Security Rule · Did not provide training until 2016||· Failure to encrypt · Lack of media/device controls · Absence of a business associate agreement (BAA)|
- Risk analysis and management
- BAs and BAAs
- Employee awareness training
Accountability and securityWithout enforcement, compliance may not be a top priority, especially during a pandemic; accountability ensures strong cybersecurity. And as stated by HHS in the past, HIPAA and compliance reviews are never suspended. OCR modified certain rules recently around the usage of telehealth, COVID-19 testing sites, and communication, but HIPAA compliance is still necessary. Especially as safety concerns grow with increased remote working, telehealth, and telecommunication. Emphasis must be on strong procedures and policies, employee awareness training, and solid email security (i.e., HIPAA compliant email). Paubox Email Suite encrypts all emails sent from a customer’s existing email platform. Emails are delivered directly to a patient’s inbox with no extra steps or passwords required. Paubox Email Suite is perfect for helping CEs avoid a HIPAA violation when protection is needed the most.
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