Last week, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced a settlement with Lafourche Medical Group (“LMG”), a Louisiana medical group, for a 2021 phishing attack and breach that affected the protected health information (“PHI”) of 34,862 individuals. In addition to paying $480,000 to OCR, LMG agreed to a corrective action plan that will include implementing security measures to protect electronic PHI, developing written policies and procedures to comply with HIPAA rules, and training staff members.Continue Reading OCR Takes Enforcement Action for Phishing Attack
Last week, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued two pieces of guidance on the privacy and security of protected health information (“PHI”) when using telehealth services. One of the documents is intended to help health care providers explain to patients, in plain language, the privacy and security risks of using remote communication technologies for telehealth (the “Provider Telehealth Guidance”). The other provides tips to patients on how to safeguard their PHI when using video apps and other technologies for telehealth (the “Patient Telehealth Guidance”).Continue Reading OCR Issues Guidance to Providers and Patients on Telehealth Privacy and Security
On May 17, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced an enforcement action (“Enforcement Action”) against Illinois-based Easy Healthcare Corporation (“Easy Healthcare”), which operates the Premom application, for allegedly violating Section 5 of the FTC Act and the Health Breach Notification Rule (“HBNR”). Easy Healthcare has developed, advertised, and distributed a mobile application called the Premom Ovulation Tracker (“Premom”) that allows users to input and track various types of personal and health information. In the complaint (“Complaint”), the FTC alleges that Easy Healthcare deceived users by disclosing users’ sensitive health data with third parties and failed to notify consumers of these unauthorized disclosures in violation of the HBNR. The proposed order (“Proposed Order”), which was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, imposes a civil penalty of $100,000 and prohibits Easy Healthcare from sharing user personal health data with third parties for advertising, among other requirements. As part of a related action, Easy Healthcare has agreed to pay an additional $100,000 to Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Oregon for violating their respective laws.Continue Reading FTC Announces Enforcement Action Against Ovulation Tracking App Premom
HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (“SAMHSA”) proposed updated rules to clarify the scope of perceived barriers to sharing information regarding treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) among providers, with research entities, and for law enforcement purposes. The proposed changes to the 42 C.F.R. Part 2 (“Part 2”) regulations appear in two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRMs”), which are also summarized in a Fact Sheet. These proposals are part of HHS’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, an agency-wide effort to remove regulatory obstacles to care coordination and information-sharing. HHS is anticipated to release proposed rules on HIPAA, the Physician Self-Referral Law and Anti-Kickback Statute by the end of 2019 as part of this effort as well.
The proposed Part 2 updates could have significant impacts on how health care providers, researchers, and health technology companies protect and share SUD information with each other, so interested parties should submit comments on the NPRMs before the deadlines, and prepare to submit comments in response to HHS’s other Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care efforts in the coming months.
In order to move health care organizations towards consistency in mitigating important cybersecurity threats to the health care sector, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) published multiple guidance documents on best practices for health care organizations to reduce cybersecurity risks (“HHS Cyber Guidance”). The HHS Cyber Guidance is the result of HHS’ public-private partnership with more than 150 cybersecurity and health care experts. While compliance is voluntary, this guidance serves as direction to health care entities on important practices that should be considered and implemented to reduce risk.
Why HHS has published this guidanceContinue Reading HHS Releases Voluntary Cybersecurity Practices Guidance
As we await proposed HHS regulations on interoperability and patient access to data, and as more companies than ever before are collecting and using data to power advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve health care quality and delivery, it is important to understand the scope and limitation of protections and the applicability of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
Patients, providers and caregivers now have access to a wide array of devices and applications to manage and track patient health, improve treatment adherence, and better coordinate care. Large technology companies, athletic gear manufacturers, and others are entering a rapidly growing consumer health technology market. They are developing new technologies including tracking apps, wearables, and social networks that are increasingly integrated into patients’ daily lives. With an estimated 86.7 million U.S. consumers owning wearable devices by 2019, patients are generating billions of data points that provide insight into their health. Yet many of these companies are not subject to existing privacy protections under HIPAA, creating a significant gap in consumer protections.
At the same time, HHS is pushing for greater interoperability and patient access to data to address a challenge that remains widespread even after the investment of billions of federal dollars into the adoption of electronic health records. Agencies are encouraging and mandating easier availability of electronic health data, through current and anticipated CMS and ONC regulations and through a variety of government initiatives such as: 1) Blue Button and MyHealtheData; 2) incentivizing the adoption of open APIs; 3) developing new fee-for-service payment policies regarding remote monitoring and virtual care reimbursement; and 4) launching Sync for Science, a technical standard for facilitating patient-mediated data exchange for research. Consumers and companies alike seek guidance on the implications of collecting, storing, maintaining, and commercializing personal health data.
Continue Reading Closing the Health Information Privacy Divide
The Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced on August 18, 2016 that it is stepping up enforcement actions related to small breaches. Although OCR investigates all reported breaches affecting more than 500 people, this new initiative will increase investigations of breaches affecting fewer than 500 people. As OCR recognizes, …
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is looking for input on federal policy related to the Internet of Things (IoT). On April 5, NTIA published a request for comment on federal efforts to promote IoT efforts and foster innovation. The Department of Commerce will use the comments to develop a “green paper” identifying key…
On February 25, President Obama addressed a small audience at the White House, identifying the need for patient participation in health care and the importance of individualizing treatments for a particular patient. Obama said that precision medicine can lead to reduced costs, better care, and a more efficient health care system. He stated “the health care system is actually more of a disease-care system in which the patient is passive, you wait until you get sick, a bunch of experts then help you solve it,” and that precision medicine is about “empowering individuals to monitor and take a more active role in their own health.” His remarks were quite genuine and showed his personal interest in precision medicine as he seemed to talk “off script” with his panelists.
A year ago the President launched the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) to accelerate medicine that delivers the right treatment at the right time to the right person, taking into account individuals’ health history, genes, environments, and lifestyles. This includes efforts by the NIH to build a 1 million-person voluntary national research cohort who will partner with researchers, share data, and engage in research to transform our understanding of health and disease through precision medicine. It also includes efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has enrolled over 450,000 Veterans in the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a participant-driven research cohort.Vice President Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative builds on this initiative.Continue Reading President Obama Addresses Precision Medicine, Health IT, Data Access, and Security
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced a proposed rule to modernize the federal substance abuse confidentiality rules set forth in 42 C.F.R. Part 2. The proposed updates seek to address longstanding complaints from providers and Health Information Exchanges (“HIE”) that the highly stringent confidentiality rules often stymie patient care by limiting …