What the New HIPAA Rules Mean for Health Professionals, Texting and Use of Social Media

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law, and Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

With the popularity of electronic health records (EHRs), social media and everything in between, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released stronger rules and protections governing patient privacy. On January 17, 2013, the HHS announced the omnibus rule to strengthen the privacy and security protection established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

Click here to read the entire 563-page rule.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve had enough free time to read the entire document yet, but I can tell you about the major parts of the omnibus rule, and what it means for healthcare providers.

Patients’ Information Must Stay Protected During Data Exchanges.

HHS is expanding the government’s jurisdiction over healthcare providers, health plans and other entities that process health insurance claims to include their contractors and subcontractors with whom providers share protected health information. As the industry embraces new care delivery models, including accountable care organizations (ACOs) and integrated delivery systems, data is exchanged between physicians, hospitals and additional providers to improve care and reduce costs. This all has to be done while keeping patient data safe. According to the HHS, some of the largest breaches involve business associates and not the covered entities themselves.

The government is committed to doing more HIPAA compliance audits and collecting more fines.  The fines the government collects will help to fund the audit process. Because of this rule, we will see audits of business associates and their subcontractors, not just covered entities.

Under the new rule, penalties have been increased for noncompliance based on the level of negligence with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation.

Don’t Land on the Office for Civil Rights’ “Wall of Shame.”

The changes also improve the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) breach notification requirements by making it clear when breaches must be reported to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), according to the HHS.

Once reported to the OCR, the breaches are then placed on what is commonly known in the healthcare industry as the “Wall of Shame.” It’s a comprehensive list of privacy breaches each affecting more than 500 people. We’re currently working on a “Wall of Shame” blog, so more on that later.

How Patient Information Can Be Used in Marketing.

One part of the final rule also sets new regulations for how patient information can be used for marketing and fundraising. It ensures that such information cannot be sold without a patient’s permission. According to an article in Fierce Healthcare, this provision is a huge win for patient advocates and privacy groups who blast hospitals for mining patient data to target affluent or privately insured patients. Hospitals using health and demographic data from patients’ records to target advertising could be in hot water.

Click here to read the entire Fierce Healthcare article.

Avoid HIPAA Violations: Get a HIPAA Risk Assessment.

Since the HIPAA laws have changed, you need to edit your privacy forms and procedures. Many health providers simply don't have the time to re-review their policies and revise documents. A HIPAA risk assessment is a thorough review and analysis of areas where you may have risk of violating the HIPAA laws.  Federal regulations require that covered entities have this assessment done. A HIPAA risk assessment can significantly reduce, if not entirely eliminate, your exposure to regulatory and litigation sanctions.

When the OCR auditor comes to visit your office to check for HIPAA compliance, they will ask for your risk assessment. Do you have one? Does your staff know who your HIPAA compliance officer is? Call an experienced health law attorney to complete a risk assessment of your practice today. To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here to read a blog we wrote.

Time to Update Notice of Privacy Practices.

Healthcare providers, now is the time to revise your Notice of Privacy. The final rule will be effective on March 26, 2013. Covered entities and their business associates will have until September 21, 2013, to comply.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).
For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.


What do you think about the new HIPAA rules? Do you think these updates were necessary? Do you think it will be difficult for health professionals to comply? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.


HHS Press Office. “New Rule Protects Patient Privacy, Secures Health Information.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (January 17, 2013). From: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/01/20130117b.html

Struck, Kathleen. “HIPAA Rules Fortify Patient Privacy.” MedPage Today. (January 21, 2013). From: http://www.medpagetoday.com/PracticeManagement/InformationTechnology/36940

Conn, Joseph. “New Rule: Hospital, Physician Partners Face Penalties for Privacy Leaks.” Modern Healthcare. (January 17, 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20130117/NEWS/301179957/new-rule-hospital-physician-partners-face-penalties-for-privacy&utm_source=home&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=most-popular-box

Caramenico, Alicia. “New HIPAA Rule a Delicate Balance Between Privacy, Sharing.” Fierce Healthcare. (January 18, 2013). From: http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/story/new-hipaa-rule-delicate-balance-between-privacy-sharing/2013-01-18

About the Authors: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Tag Words: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act  (HIPAA), data security, Patient privacy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH), HIPAA compliance audit, HIPAA compliance, privacy, defense attorney, defense lawyer, HIPAA attorney, HIPAA lawyer, accountable care organizations (ACOs), compliance plans, Wall of Shame

"The Health Law Firm" is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. - The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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