HIPAA & Health Information
The Trump administration has established a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. The stated purpose of this office is to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”
One day after the creation of this division, HHS proposed a new rule, providing further protections to healthcare workers who object to providing certain types of care to patients—including elective sterilization, gender reassignment surgery, or emergency contraception—based on their personal religious beliefs. Additionally, the Trump administration issued a new directive, reversing an Obama administration directive which prohibited states from refusing to send federal funds to qualified providers. This new division, new rule, and new directive serve to ensure the already-existing rights of physicians, nurses, and healthcare staff at the expense of their patients.
It happens in every emergency department: a law enforcement officer comes into the ER at two o’clock in the morning and demands to test the blood alcohol levels of a patient brought in after an auto accident. The officer pulls an exhausted nurse to the side in the hopes that the nurse will forget his or her training, or become anxious enough to give up the information for fear of being arrested. Yet no matter the specific facts, the question remains: can a hospital give law enforcement officers a patient’s PHI without authorization from the patient? In some situations, is it even required?
There is a provision under the HIPAA Privacy Rule that allows, and in some cases, requires, entities to disclose patient’s PHI to law enforcement without the patient’s authorization. However, state law can complicate this picture with more restrictive regulations and guidance.
On September 25th, a former Okaloosa County, Florida paramedic, Christopher Wimmer, was sentenced to six months jail time and three years’ probation for taking “selfies” with incapacitated victims in ambulances last year and sending them to a co-worker. He and his co-worker, Kaylee Renee Dubois, were engaged in a “selfie war” with each other and snapped images and videos of patients in ambulances who were unconscious, sedated, intoxicated, or incapacitated. In total, 101 photos, 64 videos, and 41 patients were photographed or recorded during the so-called war, and a mere three patients consented to photographs being taken of them. Employees’ missteps with the privacy rights of patients have a negative lasting effect on their employer, their own career, and their patients.
Though the rain has stopped falling, Houston is still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, one of the largest and most destructive rainfall events on record. Healthcare providers in particular find themselves struggling to keep up with the various health problems caused by the flooding itself, on top of getting life-sustaining care to individuals with chronic or preexisting conditions. Crises like Harvey create serious problems for the delivery of care, but also for regulating it—circumstances are so uniquely devastating that standards can feel like barriers to necessary medical attention. And when family and friends are desperate to know if their loved one is out of danger, even the right of privacy seems negligible.
However, natural disasters and emergency events shouldn’t be used as an excuse to regulate away protections individuals depend on, such as the privacy and confidentiality of their personal information. Regulators must be careful when determining how to respond in a crisis—overreaching for the sake of bringing relief or under-regulating for flexibility can leave the public high and dry when the floodwaters recede.
In an unprecedented act, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) entered into a settlement agreement with Presence Health Network based on the healthcare system’s failure to timely report a breach of unsecured protected health information (PHI). Under the Breach Notification Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) a covered entity must notify affected individuals, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the media for breaches affecting 500 people or more. Presence Health will pay $475,000 and implement a corrective action plan (CAP) to address misunderstandings in workforce member roles and responsibilities relating to the notification process.
Christine Bulgozdi Associate Editor Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2018 Back in November, the Department of Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released an alert stating that a phishing scam masquerading as an OCR Audit had been spotted being sent out to Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered …
Alexander Thompson Associate Editor Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2018 On February 16, 2017, the HHS Office of Civil Rights Acting Director, Robinsue Frohboese, announced the second largest HIPAA settlement fine ever. At $5.50 million, Memorial Healthcare System’s fine was just behind the $5.55 million given to Advocate Healthcare in 2016. Memorial …
Mary H. Carlson Associate Editor Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2018 Social media has emerged as a preferred platform for the expression of personal opinions, a means of gathering new information, and as an important networking tool. However, health care profs subject themselves to particular dangers health care professionals (HCPs) subject themselves …
Ryan Whitney Managing Editor Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2017 HIPAA breaches occur on a daily basis. Although undesirable, many of these breaches are not serious enough to require patient notification. But others are more egregious and can cause harm to both the patient and the providing entity. This article outlines a …
Logan Parker Privacy Editor Loyola University Chicago School of Law, LL.M. in Health Law 2017 On October 22, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) in collaboration and conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) released new guidance on key privacy and security considerations for organizations handling health …