On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced a $125,000 settlement with a three-physician allergy practice in Connecticut for HIPAA Privacy Rule violations.  According to OCR’s press release and corrective action plan, a physician responded to a reporter’s questions about the allergy practice turning away a patient with a service animal.  While the allergy practice had HIPAA policies and procedures in place, the involved physician did not adhere to the policies.  Further, once OCR uncovered the issue, it also found that the practice failed to sanction the involved physician in accordance with its policies.

OCR claimed that the physician’s discussion with the reporter “demonstrated a reckless disregard for the patient’s privacy rights and that the disclosure occurred after the doctor was instructed by [the practice’s] Privacy Officer to either not respond to the media or respond with ‘no comment.’”  In particular, OCR expressed concern about complaining patients having their protected health information shared with the media and also concluded that the practice “failed to take any disciplinary action against the doctor or take any corrective action following the impermissible disclosure to the media.”

The settlement here illustrates a number of important points.  First, even small practices, and breaches involving as few as one patient, can be subject to enforcement actions and large settlements or penalties.  Second, having policies and procedures is not enough.  When workforce members (including physicians) violate those policies, the covered entity must sanction them in accordance with the policies.  Finally, after uncovering a breach, it is important to implement corrective measures to ensure that the same type of breach does not happen again.  Examples of corrective actions after a breach like this one include re-training employees on existing policies and implementing a policy requiring that statements to the media must be in writing and that the privacy officer must approve all statements in advance.

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Photo of Dena M. Castricone Dena M. Castricone

Dena M. Castricone, CIPP/US is the chair of the Privacy and Cybersecurity group and a member of the Long Term Care and Health Care groups.  She also serves as Chair of the firm’s Women Expanding Business initiative and co-chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee.  Prior to joining Murtha Cullina, Dena served as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Frank J. Williams.

As the Chair of the Privacy and Cybersecurity group and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Dena provides the full complement of data breach coaching services to business and health care clients including breach notification to individuals and various government entities.  Related to data breaches, she also counsels clients on the creation of information security, incident response plans and other proactive measures.  Additionally, Dena advises clients on compliance with state, federal and international privacy laws including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as well as many others. Dena has written extensively on privacy and cybersecurity issues and she is the Co-Editor of Privacy and Cybersecurity PerspectivesRead More

Photo of Daniel J. Kagan Daniel J. Kagan

Dan Kagan is an Associate in the Health Care, Long Term Care and Privacy and Cybersecurity Groups. He represents hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, assisted living communities, CCRCs and other health care clients with a wide range of regulatory, compliance, risk management, transactional and reimbursement issues.

With regard to Privacy and Cybersecurity, Dan has experience drafting privacy policies and notices, website terms of use, written information security plans and incident response plans.  Dan counsels clients on compliance issues related to state, federal and international privacy laws including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Dan also has experience representing both health care and non-health care clients that have suffered data breaches and assists such clients with breach response and applicable reporting obligations.  Dan writes extensively on privacy and cybersecurity issues and is a co-editor of Murtha’s Privacy and Cybersecurity Perspectives blog.

As a member of the Health Care and Long Term Care groups, Dan has experience representing clients with HIPAA compliance, Stark and anti-kickback analyses, purchase and sale transactions, reviewing and drafting contracts, certificate of need requirements, rate appeals, Medicare and Medicaid audits, medical staff and credentialing matters, licensing and change of ownership proceedings.

Prior to joining Murtha Cullina, Dan clerked for the Honorable Lubbie Harper, Jr. and the Honorable Joseph H. Pellegrino of the Connecticut Appellate Court.

Dan received his J.D. with honors from the University of Connecticut School of Law where he was a Notes and Comments Editor for the Connecticut Insurance Law Journal. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from McGill University.