Privacy laws, such as HIPAA, are the bane of health journalism. No matter how fervently you wish to preserve patient privacy, the legal protections often stand between you and a great story.
Unless you know the ways around them.
ProPublica’s Annie Waldman is an expert in overcoming or sidestepping privacy barriers. Continue reading
Since Sunday’s horrific shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured 53 patrons at the Pulse night club, journalists have been asking whether the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) limits what hospital administrators can say about a patient’s condition.
One source of confusion was a statement made by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer after the June 12 attack. Continue reading
Charles Ornstein, a senior reporter at ProPublica, kicked off a Health Journalism 2016 session about the federal government’s health privacy rule with several stories of privacy breaches:
- A woman was watching television at night when she came upon footage documenting her husband’s death. She had never been contacted for permission.
- A doctor hired a private investigator to investigate a patient.
- A woman went online and found that a website had made public some 6,000 paternity cases.
These privacy breaches, Ornstein said, can be “very, very harmful” to individuals. Continue reading
Pia Christensen/AHCJJan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, guides journalists in how to work with hospitals and patient privacy laws at Health Journalism 2015.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted nearly 20 years ago to make reporters gnash their teeth. Not quite, presenters at Health Journalism 2015 in Santa Clara, Calif., told their audience.
HIPAA, as it was birthed into law in 1996, was intended to make it easier for people to keep their health insurance when they change jobs. The law set standards for the electronic exchange of patient information, including protecting the privacy of such records. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the Privacy Rule to implement that aspect of the law, and its Office of Civil Rights is in charge of enforcing it.
The Privacy Rule, which went into effect in April 2003, has made it more difficult for reporters to get information about individuals’ health care, such as the names and condition of accident victims. Hospital employees and reporters not well informed about the law make things even harder.
It is important to remember some key points about HIPAA and other patient privacy laws, presenters said: Continue reading
The Boston Globe‘s Liz Kowalczyk tells the story of how one of the paper’s staff photographers stumbled upon a massive medical privacy breach while dumping his trash.
As Tinker Ready points out on Boston Health News, it’s a reminder that stories are everywhere … and shredders are not. Kowalcyzyk traced the documents to a billing intermediary.
Kowalcyzk uses the landfill scene to demonstrate just how difficult it is for hospital officials to keep confidential information from slipping through the cracks.
The photographer said he saw health and insurance records from at least four hospitals and their pathology groups — Milford, Holyoke, Carney, and Milton — mostly dated 2009. The Globe notified the hospitals. It is unclear how many other hospitals’ records might have been discarded in the dump.
(Hat tip to Tinker Ready)
With a $1 million settlement, HHS and Rite Aid have closed the book on a HIPAA privacy case that began with a journalist’s investigative reporting in 2006. In a nut shell, Rite Aid employees across the country were tossing prescriptions and pill bottles out without taking measures to secure the sensitive information they held.
They were exposed by Bob Segall, Jim Hall and Bill Ditton of WTHR-Indianapolis. For the story, Segall eventually checked dumpsters in 12 cities nationwide and found unsecured information in all of them. Segall told the tale of how he broke the story, and how other reporters could do the same, in this article for AHCJ members.
For those unfamiliar with the case’s background, NPR’s April Fulton can get you up to speed. CVS settled with HHS last year, and NPR’s Fulton reports that Walgreens will be next.