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Security, Privacy and Information Governance

Category: Health Care



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CMS Confirms Policy on Texting Patient Information among Healthcare Providers

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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued a State Survey & Certification Memorandum effective immediately in order to clarify its position on texting patient information among health care providers.

Although CMS acknowledges that the use of texting to communicate with other members of a patient’s health care team has become a common and invaluable practice, it acknowledges that such practice risks noncompliance with the Medicare Conditions of Participation (CoPs) or Conditions for Coverage (CfCs).  In order to text and comply with the CoPs or CfCs, CMS requires providers to use, maintain, and routinely assess secure, encrypted systems or platforms and minimize the risks to patient privacy and confidentiality per the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other requirements under the CoPs or CfCs.

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Oncology Services Provider Reaches $2.3 Million Settlement with HHS for Data Breach

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21st Century Oncology, Inc. (21CO), a Florida-based oncology services provider, has agreed to pay $2.3 million in a no-fault resolution to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to settle potential civil money penalties stemming from a 2015 cyberattack on its network SQL database.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was first to detect that an unauthorized third party illegally obtained patient information from 21CO in October 2015.  Upon further investigation by 21CO and OCR, it was determined that 21CO:

  • Impermissibly disclosed the protected health information (PHI), including names, social security numbers, and diagnoses, and treatments, of 2,213,597 of its patients.   
  • Failed to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic protected health information (ePHI).   
  • Failed to implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level.   
  • Failed to implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports.   
  • Disclosed protected health information to  third party vendors, acting as its business associates, without obtaining satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate agreement.

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Another State-Lead Data Breach Action Results in High Fines and Strict Compliance Requirements

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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Multi-State Billing Services (MSB), a Medicaid billing company that provided processing services for 13 public schools, signed a no-fault consent judgment settling a 2014 data breach resulting from a stolen laptop that put 2,618 children at risk for identity theft and fraud.   The MSB laptop contained unencrypted personal information, including names, social security numbers, Medicaid identification numbers and birth dates.

The settlement requires MSB to pay $100,000 and implement improved security practices after an investigation by the attorney general’s office determined it violated state consumer protection and data security laws.  More specifically, the judgment requires MSB to continue to develop, implement and maintain a written and comprehensive information security program and review and update its existing policies and procedures for compliance with data security laws.  It must also train its staff on how to protect personal information and regularly report on its compliance with such requirements to the state attorney general’s office.

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Investigation Continues After Massive Data Breach at Henry Ford Health System

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An unknown hacker gained access to 18,470 patients’ personal health information via employee emails at Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System (HFHS).

According to the press release, HFHS first learned of the incident on October 3, 2017, after becoming aware that the email credentials of a group of employees were compromised.  Even though the emails were name and password protected by encryption, they remained vulnerable to such illegal access.  The email accounts contained patient health information, including:

  • Patient name
  • Date of birth
  • Medical record number
  • Provider’s name
  • Date of service
  • Department’s name
  • Location
  • Medical condition
  • Health insurer

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FDA Approves First Digital Pill

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the country’s first drug with a digital ingestion tracking system.

Abilify MyCite is a pill that digitally tracks whether patients have taken the medication.  The pill contains a sensor that, once ingested, sends a message to a patient’s wearable patch, which then transmits the information to a smartphone application.  This voluntary process allows patients, caregivers, and physicians to track this information through a web-based portal if the patient has given consent.  Experts believe that such digital devices could have a positive impact on public health by addressing a longstanding problem; in this case, that patients do not take their medicines as prescribed.

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A Bipartisan Effort to Focus on Healthcare Cybersecurity

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House Energy and Commerce Committee members Reps. Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced the HHS Cybersecurity Modernization Act earlier this month in a bipartisan effort to address cybersecurity threats to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Representatives Long and Matsui have both described the bill, H.R. 4191, as a stepping-stone towards improving cybersecurity at HHS and the health care industry at large. However, the bill does not authorize any additional appropriations to do so.

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