In a sign that HHS is serious about small data breaches, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and The Hospice of North Idaho reached a settlement agreement to resolve allegations of a 2010 breach involving 441 patient records. OCR Director Leon Rodriguez reminded the industry that every covered entity, regardless of size, must implement the privacy and security safeguards - including, e.g., encryption of protected health information on mobile devices - required under HIPAA, as amended pursuant to the HITECH Act.
This settlement comes at the same time as the OCR rolls out its new educational initiative aimed at securing protected data on mobile devices. You can learn more about this initiative here.
Via HHS Press Release:
The Hospice of North Idaho (HONI) 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 unprotected electronic protected health information (ePHI) affecting fewer than 500 individuals.
The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began its investigation after HONI reported to HHS that an unencrypted laptop computer containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 441 patients had been stolen in June 2010. Laptops containing ePHI are regularly used by the organization as part of their field work. Over the course of the investigation, OCR discovered that HONI had not conducted a risk analysis to safeguard ePHI. Further, HONI did not have in place policies or procedures to address mobile device security as required by the HIPAA Security Rule. Since the June 2010 theft, HONI has taken extensive additional steps to improve their HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance program.
“This action sends a strong message to the health care industry that, regardless of size, covered entities must take action and will be held accountable for safeguarding their patients’ health information.” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “Encryption is an easy method for making lost information unusable, unreadable and undecipherable.”
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.
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.
The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/honi-agreement.pdf
“HHS announces first HIPAA breach settlement involving less than 500 patients:
Hospice of North Idaho settles HIPAA security case for $50,000,” HHS Press Release (January 2, 2013)