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HIPAA Breach Statistics

Posted on September 3, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently came across a great blog post by Danika Brinda on the TriPoint Healthcare Solutions blog that looked at the HIPAA Breach statistics. I guess Danika is a nerd like me and enjoys looking at the HIPAA breach statistics. Here’s some of her high level findings from the latest HHS reports:

  • A total of 1,293 Data Breaches have been reported since September 2009
  • Paper is still the #1 location (media type) of data breaches – 23% of total breaches involving greater than 500 individuals
  • Theft and Loss make up 59% of types of data breaches
  • Data hacking only makes up 10% of all data breaches where greater than 500 individuals were impacted
  • Business Associates are responsible for 22% of data breaches greater than 500 individuals

You can go check out her blog post for other findings and a number of charts using the data.

I think the stats above paint a very different picture than what most would expect. Many like to pretend that somehow breaches weren’t really an issue on paper. The stats above definitely say otherwise. I was also shocked that 59% of breaches were from theft of loss. Although, I wonder if more of those are reported, because it’s not as shameful to have something stolen from you as maybe some other violation which illustrates your negligence.

What wasn’t surprising to me was the increase in business associates that were responsible for the breach. I believe that number will continue to increase and increase dramatically. Many healthcare organizations don’t have a good grip on the HIPAA compliance of their business associates and I think they’re going to get blind sided by breaches.

What do you think of this data? Anything stand out to you?

Is HIPAA Misuse Blocking Patient Use Of Their Data?

Posted on August 18, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Recently, a story in the New York Times told some troubling stories about how HIPAA misunderstandings have crept into both professional and personal settings. These included:

  • A woman getting scolded at a hospital in Boston for “very improper” speech after discussing her husband’s medical situation with a dear friend.
  • Refusal by a Pennsylvania hospital to take a daughter’s information on her mother’s medical history, citing HIPAA, despite the fact that the daughter wasn’t *requesting* any data. The woman’s mother was infirm and couldn’t share medical history — such as her drug allergy — on her own.
  • The announcement, by a minister in California, that he could no longer read the names of sick congregants due to HIPAA.

All of this is bad enough, particularly the case of the Pennsylvania refusing to take information that could have protected a helpless elderly patient, but the effects of this ignorance create even greater ripples, I’d argue.

Let’s face it: our efforts to convince patients to engage with their own medical data haven’t been terribly successful as of yet. According to a study released late last year by Xerox, 64% of patients were not using patient portals, and 31% said that their doctor had never discussed portals with them.

Some of the reasons patients aren’t taking advantage of the medical data available to them include ignorance and fear, I’d argue. Technophobia and a history of just “trusting the doctor” play a role as well. What’s more, pouring through lab results and imaging studies might seem overwhelming to patients who have never done it before.

But that’s not all that’s holding people back. In my opinion, the climate of medical data fear HIPAA misunderstandings have created is playing a major part too.

While I understand why patients have to sign acknowledgements of privacy practices and be taught what HIPAA is intended to do, this doesn’t exactly foster a climate in which patients feel like they own their data. While doctor’s offices and hospitals may not have done this deliberately, the way they administer HIPAA compliance can make medical data seem portentous, scary and dangerous, more like a bomb set to go off than a tool patients can use to manage their care.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that if providers want to see patients engaged and managing their care, they should make sure patients feel comfortable asking for access to and using that data. While some may never feel at ease digging into their test results or correcting their medical history, I believe that there’s a sizable group of patients who would respond well to a reminder that there’s power in doing so.

The truth is that while most providers now give patients the option of logging on to a portal, they typically don’t make it easy. And heaven knows even the best-trained physician office staff rarely take the time to urge patients to log on and learn.

But if providers make the effort to balance stern HIPAA paperwork with encouraging words, patients are more likely to get inspired. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge to get people on board with new behavior. And there’s no excuse for letting foolish misinterpretations of HIPAA prevent that from happening.

HHS Privacy and Security Rules Cheat Sheet Infographic

Posted on August 6, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Scrypt has put out the infographic below to help summarize the guide to Privacy and Security of Electronic Health Information that HHS put out. Of course, the full guide is 62 pages of detailed information, but this will give you a flavor for what’s in the guide.
HHS Privacy and Security Rule Infographic

Ashley Madison Data Breach – A Lesson for Health IT

Posted on July 28, 2015 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin is a true believer in #HealthIT, social media and empowered patients. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He currently leads the marketing efforts for @PatientPrompt, a Stericycle product. Colin’s Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung

The recent hack of the Ashley Madison, Cougar Life and Established Men infidelity/hookup websites has been front page news. Overnight the lives of 50 million site members (pun intended) were potentially stolen by a hacker group calling itself “The Impact Team”. The Washington Post and CNBC have great articles on the details of the hack.

As the story unfolded I became more and more fascinated, not because of the scandalous nature of the data, but because I believe this hack is a lesson for all of us that work in #HealthIT.

The value of the data that is held in EHRs and other health apps is somewhat debatable. There have been claims that a single health record is worth 10-200 times more than credit card data on the black market. The higher value is due to the potential access to prescription medications and/or the potential to use health data to commit Medicare fraud. A recent NPR post indicates that the value of a single patient’s record is approximately $470 but there is not a lot of strong evidence to support this valuation (see John Lynn’s post on this topic here).

While $470 may seem like a lot, I believe that for many patients, the reputational value of their health data is far higher. Suppose, for example you were a patient at a behavioral health clinic. You have kept your treatment secret. No one in your family or your employer know about it. Now suppose that your clinic’s EHR was breached and a hacker asked you for $470 to keep your data from being posted to the Internet. I think many would seriously consider forking over the cash.

To me this hypothetical healthcare situation is analogous to what happened with Ashley Madison. The membership data itself likely has little intrinsic value (even credit card data is only worth a few dollars). HOWEVER, the reputational value of this data is extremely high. The disruption and damage to the lives of Ashley Madison customers is enormous (though some say well deserved).

The fall-out for the company behind Ashley Madison (Avid Life Media – a Canadian company) will also be severe. They have completely lost the trust of their customers and I do not believe that any amount of market spin or heart-felt apology will be enough to save them from financial ruin.

I believe what Avid Life Media is going through is what most small-medium sized clinics and #HealthIT vendors would face if all their patient data was exposed. Patients would utterly lose faith and take their business elsewhere (though admittedly that might be a little harder if other clinic choices were not covered by your insurance). Even if the organization could afford the HHS Office for Civil Rights fines for the data breach, the impact of lost patients and lost trust would be more devastating.

With the number of health data breaches increasing, how long before healthcare has its own version of Ashley Madison? We need to do more to protect patient data, it can no longer be an after-thought. Data security and privacy need to be part of the design process of software and of healthcare organizations.

Life’s short. Secure your data!

Patient Data Breach at UCLA Hospital System Possibly Impacting 4.5 Million Patients

Posted on July 17, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The LA Times is reporting that UCLA Health System has had a data breach possibly affecting 4.5 million patients. It’s the usual story of a HIPAA breach of this size. They saw some abnormal activity on one of their systems that contained a large amount of patient records. They don’t have any evidence that such data was taken, but hackers are usually really good about not leaving a trail when they take records.

Here’s some comments from UCLA Health as quoted in the LA Times article linked above:

“We take this attack on our systems extremely seriously,” said Dr. James Atkinson, interim associate vice chancellor and president of the UCLA Hospital System.

In an interview, Atkinson said the hospital saw unusual activity in one of its computer servers in October. An investigation confirmed in May that the hackers had gained access to patient information.

“They are a highly sophisticated group likely to be offshore,” he said. “We really don’t know. It’s an ongoing investigation.”

I have yet to see a hospital say they don’t take a breach seriously. I’ve also never seen a hospital say that they were hacked by unsophisticated hackers that exploited their poor security (although, you can be sure that happens in every industry). Of course it had to be a sophisticated attack for them to breach their amazing security, right?

What’s not clear to me is why it took them so long to confirm they’d been hacked. The LA Times article says that they saw the unusual activity in October and it took until May to confirm that “the hackers had gained access to patient information.” Now we’re just getting the public notification in July? All of that seems long, but maybe the attack was just that sophisticated.

What’s scary for me is that these types of breaches have become so common place that I’m not surprised and it’s not shocking. In fact, they’ve almost become standard. Next up will be UCLA Health System setting up some type of credit protection service for their patients assuming there was some financial data there as well. I don’t think we should treat these breaches as normal. They should be a wake up call to everyone in the industry, but I’m sorry to say that it feels more like the norm than the exception.

Does Federal Health Data Warehouse Pose Privacy Risk?

Posted on June 23, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Not too long ago, few consumers were aware of the threat data thieves posed to their privacy, and far fewer had even an inkling of how vulnerable many large commercial databases would turn out to be.

But as consumer health data has gone digital — and average people have become more aware of the extent to which data breaches can affect their lives — they’ve grown more worried, and for good reason. As a series of spectacular data breaches within health plans has illustrated, both their medical and personal data might be at risk, with potentially devastating consequences if that data gets into the wrong hands.

Considering that these concerns are not only common, but pretty valid, federal authorities who have collected information on millions of HealthCare.gov insurance customers need to be sure that they’re above reproach. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

According to an Associated Press story, the administration is storing all of the HealthCare.gov data in a perpetual central repository known as MIDAS. MIDAS data includes a lot of sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and financial accounts.  If stolen, this data could provide a springboard for countless case of identity or even medical identity theft, both of which have emerged as perhaps the iconic crimes of 21st century life.

Both the immensity of the database and a failure to plan for destruction of old records are raising the hackles of privacy advocates. They definitely aren’t comfortable with the ten-year storage period recommended by the National Archives.

An Obama Administration rep told the AP that MIDAS meets or exceeds federal security and privacy standards, by which I assume he largely meant HIPAA regs. But it’s reasonable to wonder how long the federal government can protect its massive data store, particularly if commercial entities like Anthem — who arguably have more to lose — can’t protect their beneficiaries’ data from break-ins. True, MIDAS is also operated by a private concern, government technology contractor CACI, but the workflow has to impacted by the fact that CMS owns the data.

Meanwhile, growing privacy breach questions are driven by reasonable concerns, especially those outlined by the GAO, which noted last year that MIDAS went live without an in-depth assessment of privacy risks posed by the system.

Another key point made by the AP report (which did a very good job on this topic, by the way, somewhat to my surprise) is that MIDAS’ mission has evolved from a facility for running analytics on the data to a central clearinghouse for data sharing between CMS and health insurance companies and state Medicaid organizations. And we all know that with mission creep can come feature creep; with feature creep comes greater and greater potential for security holes that are passed over and left to be found by intruders.

Now, private healthcare organizations will still be managing the bulk of consumer medical data for the near future. And they have many vulnerabilities that are left unpatched, as recent events have emphasized. But in the near term, it seems like a good idea to hold the federal government’s feet to the fire. The last thing we need is a giant loss of consumer confidence generated by a giant government data exposure.

Patients Demand the Best Care … for Their Data

Posted on June 22, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Art Gross, Founder of HIPAA Secure Now!.
Art Gross Headshot
Whether it’s a senior’s first fitting for a hearing aid, or a baby boomer in for a collagen injection, both are closely scrutinizing new patient forms handed to them by the office clerk.  With 100 million medical records breached and stolen to date, patients have every reason to be reluctant when they’re asked to fill out forms that require their social security number, driver’s license, insurance card and date of birth — all the ingredients for identity fraud.  Patients are so squeamish about disclosing their personal information, even Medicare has plans to remove social security numbers on patients’ benefits cards.

Now patients have as much concern about protecting their medical records as they do about receiving quality care, and they’re getting savvy about data protection.  They have every right to be assured by their physician that his practice is as concerned about their privacy as he is about their health.

But despite ongoing reports of HIPAA violations and continuous breaking news about the latest widespread patient data breach, medical practices continue to treat ePHI security as a lesser priority.  And they neglect to train front office staff so the patient who now asks a receptionist where the practice stores her records either gets a quizzical look, or is told they’re protected in an EHR but doesn’t know how, or they’re filed in a bank box in “the back room” but doesn’t know why.

In some cases, the practice may hide the fact that office staff is throwing old paper records in a dumpster.  Surprisingly this happens over and over.  Or, on the dark side, the receptionist accesses the EHR, steals patients’ social security numbers and other personal information and texts them to her criminal boyfriend for medical identity theft.

Another cybercrime threatening medical practices comes from hackers who attack a server through malware and encrypt all the medical files.  They hold the records hostage and ask for ransoms.  Medical records can vanish and the inability to access critical information about a patient’s medical condition could end up being life threatening.

Physicians should not only encrypt all mobile devices, servers and desktops, regularly review system activity, back up their servers and have a disaster recovery plan in place, etc. they should also share their security practices and policies with the patient who asks how his office is protecting her records.

Otherwise, the disgruntled patient whose question about security is dismissed won’t only complain to her friends over coffee, she’ll spread the word on Facebook.  Next time a friend on Facebook asks for a referral the patient tells her not to go to her doctor — not because he’s an incompetent surgeon but because he doesn’t know the answer when she asks specifically if the receptionist has unlimited access to her records.

And word gets out through social media that the practice is ‘behind the times.’  The doctor earns a reputation for not taking the patient’s question seriously, and for not putting the proper measures in place to secure the patient’s data.  This is the cockroach running through the restaurant that ends up on YELP.

It’s time to pull back the curtain and tell patients how you’re protecting their valuable data.  Hand them a HIPAA security fact sheet with key measures you’ve put in place to gain their confidence.  For example, our practice:

  • Performs annual risk assessments, with additional security implemented, including encryption and physical security of systems that contain patient information.
  • Shows patients that the organization has policies and procedures in place
  • Trains employees on how to watch for risks for breaches
  • Gives employees limited access to medical records
  • Backups systems daily
  • Performs system activity regularly

Practices that communicate to patients how they are protecting their information, whether it’s provided by the front office staff, stated in a fact sheet or displayed on their websites, not only instills confidence and maintains their reputations, they actually differentiate themselves in the market place and attract new patients away from competitors.

About Art Gross
Art Gross co-founded Entegration, Inc. in 2000 and serves as President and CEO. As Entegration’s medical clients adopted EHR technology Gross recognized the need to help them protect patient data and comply with complex HIPAA security regulations. Leveraging his experience supporting medical practices, in-depth knowledge of HIPAA compliance and security, and IT technology, Gross started HIPAA Secure Now! to focus on the unique IT requirements of medical practices. Email Art at artg@hippasecurenow.com.

Full Disclosure: HIPAA Secure Now! is an advertiser on EMR and HIPAA.

Windows Server 2003 Support Ends July 14, 2015 – No Longer HIPAA Compliant

Posted on June 16, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

If this post feels like groundhog day, then you are probably remembering our previous post about Windows XP being retired and therefore no longer HIPAA compliant and our follow up article about a case where “unpatched and unsupported software” was penalized by OCR as a HIPAA violation.

With those posts as background, the same thing applies to Microsoft ending support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015. Many of you are probably wondering why I’m talking about a 2003 software that’s being sunset. Could people really still be using this software in healthcare? The simple answer is that yes they are still using Windows Server 2003.

Mike Semel has a really great post about how to deal with the change to ensure you avoid any breaches or HIPAA penalties. In his post he highlights how replacing Windows Server 2003 is a much larger change than it was to replace Windows XP.

In the later case, you were disrupting one user. In the former case, you’re likely disrupting a whole group of users. Plus, the process of moving a server to a new server and operating system is much harder than moving a desktop user to a new desktop. In fact, in most cases the only reason organizations hadn’t moved off Windows XP was because of budget. My guess is that many that are still on Windows Server 2003 are still on it because the migration path to a newer server is hard or even impossible. This is why you better start planning now to move off Windows Server 2003.

I also love this section of Mike Semel’s post linked above which talks about the costs of a breach (which is likely to happen if you continue using unsupported and unpatched software):

The 2015 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report was just released and the Ponemon Institute determined that a data breach of healthcare records averages $ 398 per record. You are thinking that it would never cost that much to notify patients, hire attorneys, and plug the holes in your network. You’re right. The report goes on to say that almost ¾ of the cost of a breach is in loss of business and other consequences of the breach. If you are a non-profit that means fewer donations. If you are a doctor or a hospital it could mean your patients lose trust and go somewhere else.

I’m sure that some will come on here like they did on the Windows XP post and suggest that you can keep using Windows Server 2003 in a HIPAA compliant manner. This penalty tells me otherwise. I believe it’s a very risky proposition to continue using unsupported and unpatched software. Might there be some edge case where a specific software requires you to use Windows Server 2003 and you could set up some mix of private network/firewalls/access lists and other security to mitigate the risk of a breach of the unsupported software. In theory, that’s possible, but it’s unlikely most of you reading this are in that position. So, you better get to work updating from Windows Server 2003.

Phase 2 HIPAA Audits Kick Off With Random Surveys

Posted on June 9, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Ideally, the only reason you would know about the following is due to scribes such as myself — but for the record, the HHS Office for Civil Rights has sent out a bunch of pre-audit screening surveys to covered entities. Once it gets responses, it will do a Phase 2 audit not only of covered entities but also business associates, so things should get heated.

While these take the form of Meaningful Use audits, covering incentives paid from January 1, 2011 through June 30, 2014, it’s really more about checking how well you protect ePHI.

This effort is a drive to be sure that providers and BAs are complying with the HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification requirements. Apparently OCR found, during Phase 1 pilot audits in 2011 and 2012, that there was “pervasive non-compliance” with regs designed to safeguard protected health information, the National Law Review reports.

However, these audits aren’t targeting the “bad guys.” Selection for the audits is random, according to HHS Office of the Inspector General.

So if you get one of the dreaded pre-screening letters, how should you respond? According a thoughtful blog post by Maryanne Lambert for CureMD, auditors will be focused on the following areas:

  • Risk Assessment audits and reports
  • EHR security plan
  • Organizational chart
  • Network diagram
  • EHR web sites and patient portals
  • Policies and procedures
  • System inventory
  • Tools to perform vulnerability scans
  • Central log and event reports
  • EHR system users list
  • Contractors supporting the EHR and network perimeter devices.

According to Lambert, the feds will want to talk to the person primarily responsible for each of these areas, a process which could quickly devolve into a disaster if those people aren’t prepared. She recommends that if you’re selected for an audit, you run through a mock audit ahead of time to make sure these staff members can answer questions about how well policies and processed are followed.

Not that anyone would take the presence of HHS on their premises lightly, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a stumble in one corner of your operation could have widespread consequences. Lambert notes that in addition to defending your security precautions, you have to make sure that all parts of your organization are in line:

Be mindful while planning for this audit as deficiencies identified for one physician in a physician group or one hospital within a multi-hospital system, may apply to the other physicians and hospitals using the same EHR system and/or implementing meaningful use in the same way.  Thus, the incentive payments at risk in this audit may be greater than the payments to the particular provider being audited.

But as she points out, there is one possible benefit to being audited. If you prepare well, it might save you not only trouble with HHS but possibly lawsuits for breaches of information. Hey, everything has some kind of silver lining, right?

Breaking Bad And HIT: Some Thoughts for Healthcare

Posted on June 2, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Recently, I’ve been re-watching the blockbuster TV series hit “Breaking Bad” courtesy of Netflix. For those who haven’t seen it, the show traces the descent of a seemingly honest plain-Joe suburbanite from high school chemistry teacher to murderous king of a multi-state crystal meth business, all kicked off by his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

As the show clearly intends, it has me musing once again on how an educated guy with a family and a previously crime-free life can compromise everything that once mattered to him and ultimately, destroy nearly everything he loves.

And that, given that I write for this audience, had me thinking just as deeply what turns ordinary healthcare workers into cybercriminals who ruthlessly exploit people’s privacy and put their financial survival at risk by selling the data under their control.

Sure, some of data stealing is done by black-hat hackers who crack healthcare networks and mine them for data at the behest of organized crime groups. But then there’s the surprises. Like the show’s central character, Walter White, some healthcare cybercriminals seem to come out of the blue, relative “nobodies” with no history as gangsters or thieves who suddenly find a way to rationalize stealing data.

I’d bet that if you dug into the histories of those healthcare employees who “break bad” you’d find that they have a few of the following characteristics in common:

*  Feeling underappreciated:  Like Walter White, whose lowly chemistry-teacher job was far below his abilities, data-stealing employees may feel that their talents aren’t appreciated and that they’ll never “make it” via a legitimate path.

* Having a palatable excuse:  Breaking Bad’s dying anti-hero was able to rationalize his behavior by telling himself that he was doing what he did to protect his family’s future well-being. Rogue employees who sell data to the highest bidder may believe that they’re committing a victimless crime, or that they deserve the extra income to make up for a below-market salary.

Willful ignorance:  Not once, during the entire run of BB, does White stop and wonder (out loud at least) what harm his flood of crystal meth is doing to its users. While it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how people could be harmed by having their medical privacy violated — or especially, having their financial data abused — some healthcare workers will just choose not to think about it

Greed:  No need to explain this one — though people may restrain naturally greedy impulses if the other factors listed above aren’t present. You can’t really screen for it, sadly, despite the damage it can do.

So do you have employees in your facilities on the verge of breaking bad and betraying the trust their stewardship of healthcare data conveys? Taking a look around for bitter, dissatisfied types might be worth a try.