Mass Eye and Ear hit with $1.5M fine for HIPAA violation

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Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and its affiliated physician group, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates, will pay $1.5 million to settle a HIPAA security-rule violation case.

The settlement with Boston-based Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates, collectively known as MEEI, is part of a resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights. MEEI's alleged HIPAA security-rule violations stem from the reported theft in 2010 of a laptop computer storing 3,621 patient records, according to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

The Office for Civil Rights alleges that the infirmary and the group not only failed to secure data on the laptop but also failed to comply with several other HIPAA security rule requirements, including performing “a thorough analysis of the risk to the confidentiality” of individually identifiable patient information stored on the portable device and not “adopting and implementing policies and procedures to restrict access to ePHI to authorized users of portable devices.

“In an age when health information is stored and transported on portable devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones, special attention must be paid to safeguarding the information held on these devices,” OCR Director Leon Rodriguez said in a release. “This enforcement action emphasizes that compliance with the HIPAA privacy and security rules must be prioritized by management and implemented throughout an organization, from top to bottom.”

The settlement amount is to be paid in three equal installments of $500,000—the first on Oct. 15 of this year and the next two on the same date in 2013 and 2014.

The 17-page resolution agreement also requires the organization “to adhere to a corrective action plan” and permits an independent monitor to make semi-annual assessments of MEEI's compliance with the plan for three years.