December 4, 2018
Florida contractor physicians’ group shares protected health information with unknown vendor without a business associate agreement
Advanced Care Hospitalists PL (ACH) has agreed to pay $500,000 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and to adopt a substantial corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules. ACH provides contracted internal medicine physicians to hospitals and nursing homes in west central Florida. ACH provided services to more than 20,000 patients annually and employed between 39 and 46 individuals during the relevant timeframe.
Between November 2011 and June 2012, ACH engaged the services of an individual that represented himself to be a representative of a Florida-based company named Doctor’s First Choice Billings, Inc. (First Choice). The individual provided medical billing services to ACH using First Choice’s name and website, but allegedly without any knowledge or permission of First Choice’s owner.
On February 11, 2014, a local hospital notified ACH that patient information was viewable on the First Choice website, including name, date of birth and social security number. In response, ACH was able to identify at least 400 affected individuals and asked First Choice to remove the protected health information from its website. ACH filed a breach notification report with OCR on April 11, 2014, stating that 400 individuals were affected; however, after further investigation, ACH filed a supplemental breach report stating that an additional 8,855 patients could have been affected.
OCR’s investigation revealed that ACH never entered into a business associate agreement with the individual providing medical billing services to ACH, as required by HIPAA and failed to adopt any policy requiring business associate agreements until April 2014. Although ACH had been in operation since 2005, it had not conducted a risk analysis or implemented security measures or any other written HIPAA policies or procedures before 2014. The HIPAA Rules require entities to perform an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of an entity’s electronic protected health information.
“This case is especially troubling because the practice allowed the names and social security numbers of thousands of its patients to be exposed on the internet after it failed to follow basic security requirements under HIPAA,” said OCR Director Roger Severino.
In addition to the monetary settlement, ACH will undertake a robust corrective action plan that includes the adoption of business associate agreements, a complete enterprise-wide risk analysis, and comprehensive policies and procedures to comply with the HIPAA Rules.
The resolution agreement and corrective action plan may be found on the OCR website at http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/ACH/index.html