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Resolution Agreement

Massachusetts General Hospital Settles Potential HIPAA Violations 

The General Hospital Corporation and Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, Inc. (Mass General) has agreed to pay the U.S. government $1,000,000 to settle potential violations of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Mass General, one of the nation’s oldest and largest hospitals, signed a Resolution Agreement with HHS that requires it to develop and implement a comprehensive set of policies and procedures to safeguard the privacy of its patients. The settlement follows an extensive investigation by OCR.

“We hope the health care industry will take a close look at this agreement and recognize that OCR is serious about HIPAA enforcement.  It is a covered entity’s responsibility to protect its patients’ health information,” said OCR Director Georgina Verdugo.

The incident giving rise to the agreement involved the loss of protected health information (PHI) of 192 patients of Mass General’s Infectious Disease Associates outpatient practice, including patients with HIV/AIDS. OCR opened its investigation of Mass General after a complaint was filed by a patient whose PHI was lost on March 9, 2009. OCR’s investigation indicated that Mass General failed to implement reasonable, appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of PHI when removed from Mass General’s premises and impermissibly disclosed PHI potentially violating provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. 

This impermissible disclosure involved the loss of documents consisting of a patient schedule containing names and medical record numbers for a group of 192 patients, and billing encounter forms containing the name, date of birth, medical record number, health insurer and policy number, diagnosis and name of providers for 66 of those patients.  These documents were lost on March 9, 2009, when a Mass General employee, while commuting to work, left the documents on the subway train. The documents were never recovered.

“To avoid enforcement penalties, covered entities must ensure they are always in compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules,” said Verdugo. “A robust compliance program includes employee training, vigilant implementation of policies and procedures, regular internal audits, and a prompt action plan to respond to incidents.”