By now, we’ve heard about HIPAA laws and what they mean for our medical privacy. This law was designed to protect the privacy of individually identifiable health information. The HIPAA Security Rule is what sets the standards, on a national level, for the security of electronically protected health information. Further, it addresses the confidentiality issues associated with the Patient Safety Rule. As estate planning lawyers, we know the importance of living wills and medical powers of attorney. There’s another reason why it’s so important, courtesy of a massive HIPAA settlement that was recently reached in New York.
Settlement for New York Hospitals
So far, this latest HIPAA violation has resulted in the largest settlement since it was implemented: $4.8 million. It involves two New York medical centers, both of which were accused of failing to secure electronic health information for thousands of patients. Even more shocking: these records were vulnerable for at least four years.
While many are unfamiliar with HIPAA, the reality is it’s a law that’s been in place for several years and is designed to protect confidential records.
Both centers disclosed that nearly 7000 patient records had been compromised. These filed contained names, addresses, medications, diagnoses, laboratory results and more.
Wondering what triggered the investigation? A doctor who worked for both facilities had attempted to deactivate a personal computer on the same server as the confidential records. This resulted in a trigger that then made the information available to anyone online. The repercussions could have been catastrophic. The investigation found an absence of accurate and through risk analyses of the various systems. This likely explains why it was not found sooner.
Despite efforts in the past of attempting encryption, both hospitals fell short and ended up with inconsistent processes that highlighted the vulnerabilities. HIPAA laws were written to offset these intrusions. Unfortunately, auditors often find breaches and downright overlooked, though obvious errors. The reality is technology and the healthcare sector aren’t exactly cohesive when it comes to patient protection; until it is, there will always be the possibility of similar breaches.
Medical Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy
Stories like these highlight the importance of having a medical power of attorney and a healthcare proxy. HIPAA was designed to be very limiting in its scope. Hospitals aren’t allowed to even confirm a patient is in the hospital or receiving care unless there are proper legal documents allowing them to do so. By putting the necessary paperwork in place, including naming a power of attorney to make important medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so, you’re protecting yourself and your family. One small error can be enough to result in a hospital erring on the side of caution and with steep (and increasing) fines that high, you can be sure it’s a top priority for medical centers.
To learn more about these important estate planning documents and how to put them into effect, contact our offices today.