December 8, 2019

December 06, 2019

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Google and Terminated Employee Had Impermissible Access to ePHI

Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) entered into a $111,400 no-fault settlement agreement and two-year action plan with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OCR) to resolve an HHS-OCR initiated complaint investigating whether PSMC was in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Prior to the HHS-OCR investigation, PSMC maintained a web-based scheduling calendar that contained patient electronic health information (ePHI). HHS-OCR’s investigation revealed that PSMC failed to obtain satisfactory assurances from its web-based scheduling calendar provider, Google, in the form of a business associate agreement (BAA), that all ePHI would be properly safeguarded. As a result, PSMC impermissibly revealed the ePHI of 557 patients to Google. HHS-OCR’s investigation also revealed that a former PSMC employee obtained remote access to the web-based scheduling calendar twice after being terminated. As a result, PSMC also impermissibly disclosed the PHI of at least 557 individuals to this former employee.

In addition to the monetary settlement, PSMC must revise its policies and procedures relating to its business associate relationships and uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI). It must also develop a risk analysis of its security vulnerabilities surrounding ePHI.

As a reminder, HIPAA requires a covered entity to obtain satisfactory assurances from its business associates that it will safeguard whatever PHI and ePHI the business associate creates, receives, maintains or transmits on behalf of the covered entity. HIPAA also requires covered entities to conduct accurate and thorough assessments of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to their ePHI.

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About this Author

Sumaya Noush, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, HealthCare Attorney
Associate

Sumaya Noush counsels health care clients on strategic and operational matters including transactions, corporate governance, and regulatory compliance. She helps her clients navigate the daily challenges of running their operations while identifying opportunities for growth in today’s rapidly evolving and highly competitive health care market.

Sumaya previously served as a law clerk for Drinker Biddle, an instructor at Yale’s Bioethics Institute where she taught a seminar on FDA law and medical ethics, and a Visiting Scholar at...

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