HIPAA Breach Settlement Highlights Mobile Security

A hospice in the Midwest has agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’(HHS) $50,000 to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule. This is the first settlement involving a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information affecting fewer than 500 individuals.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began its investigation after the hospice provider reported an unencrypted laptop computer containing the health information stolen. Laptops containing protected health information are regularly used by the organization as part of their field work. Over the course of the investigation, OCR discovered that the agency had not conducted a risk analysis to safeguard its information. Further, the agency did not have in place policies or procedures to address mobile device security as required by the HIPAA Security Rule. Since the theft, the provider has taken extensive additional steps to improve their HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance program.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Breach Notification Rule requires covered entities to report an impermissible use or disclosure of protected health information, or a “breach,” of 500 individuals or more to the Secretary of HHS and the media within 60 days after the discovery of the breach. Smaller breaches affecting less than 500 individuals must be reported to the Secretary on an annual basis.

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice and HCAF urge providers to make every effort to ensure the safety of their clients’ protected health information.”

A new educational initiative, “Mobile Devices: Know the RISKS. Take the STEPS. PROTECT and SECURE Health Information,” has been launched by OCR and the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) that offers health care providers and organizations practical tips on ways to protect their patients’ health information when using mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. For more information, visit www.HealthIT.gov/mobiledevices.

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