Tag Archives: hipaa

Journalists get guidance on navigating HIPAA rules #ahcj15

About Sheila Hagar

Sheila Hagar (@ubsheilahagar) is a columnist, blogger and reporter for the Walla Walla (Wash.) Union-Bulletin newspaper. She attended Health Journalism 2015 as an AHCJ-Rural Health Journalism Fellow.

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.

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

Globe photographer finds medical records in landfill

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

landfill

Photo by D’Arcy Norman via Flickr

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)

Reporter’s dumpster diving led to HIPAA deal

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

HIPAA’s role in transplant story, correction

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The Village Voice says things are rather tense at the New York Post after it incorrectly reported on Monday that an alleged killer received a liver transplant at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Frederik Joelving of Reuters Health reported on Tuesday that the hospital denied the transplant had taken place there.

Cover of Monday's New York Post.

That was followed by a correction in the Post on Wednesday morning. The original story is no longer available on the Post‘s site but is available through Google’s cache.

According to the Village Voice, which quotes unnamed sources in the Post newsroom, “Rupert Murdoch was so enthralled with the story when it ran, that he called Post editor-in-chief Col Allan to personally congratulate him on it.” It also says the tip for the story came from Allan.

Because of the Post‘s story, the hospital eventually had to deny that Johnny Concepcion, accused of killing his wife, received a transplant there after eating rat poison in a suicide attempt. Hospital comments on whether a patient has been treated are fairly unusual as hospitals try not to run afoul of the privacy rules outlines in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

In fact, the Post‘s correction says the hospital declined to comment before it published the original story, citing HIPAA, but that “Curiously, the hospital now sees itself free to publicly discuss Concepcion’s case.”

Speaking of HIPAA, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press recently released “FERPA, HIPAA & DPPA: How federal privacy laws affect newsgathering,” a guide to federal privacy protection laws.

The section on HIPAA explains the history of the privacy rules, the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, and discusses how it has been misunderstood and misused to keep information from reporters. AHCJ President Charles Ornstein, a senior reporter at ProPublica, is quoted extensively and offers examples of its misapplication. The piece also outlines what the law does allow.

Visiting some health care blogs you might not know

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

FierceHealthcare, a site that says it’s geared toward health executives, spotlighted nine health care bloggers and, once they realized all nine were male, five female health bloggers. We thought we’d point out some blogs that our readers might not have on their radar.

Tip: To navigate those slide shows, just click on the tiny mug shot hiding in the bottom right corner well beyond the point where you assume the post has already ended.

Worth a visit

popHealth Populi: Jane Sarasohn-Kahn’s strategy seems to be to take something interesting and current, illustrate it with a chart or graphic and then riff on that idea, bringing in other sources as needed. The upshot is that her site’s updated almost daily with something you usually haven’t already heard somewhere else.

Dr. Greiver’s EMR: While the list included a number of wonky HIT blogs, I found that I learned the most from Canadian physician Michelle Greiver’s running updates on her transition to electronic medical records. I recommend taking a few minutes to start from the beginning and scan Greiver’s journey. You’re sure to come across a heap of fascinating anecdotes, from how EMRs make flu shot clinics more efficient to how much she dislikes insurance companies.

HealthBlawg: Health attorney and consultant David Harlow’s Blawg (shorthand for Law-Blog) often touches on topics of interest to health journalists, including electronic medical records, privacy and, of course, HIPAA.