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Archive for the ‘Compliance Programs’ Category

Faxing Patient Health Information to Wrong Number – Compliance Risk Area

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Physician Revises Faxing Procedures to Safeguard PHI After Faxing PHI to Employer  by Mistake

faxing phi wrong numberA medical office recently settled with OCR after it allegedly disclosed a patient’s HIV status when the office mistakenly faxed medical records to the patient’s place of employment instead of to the patient’s new health care provider.  The employee responsible for the disclosure received a written disciplinary warning, and both the employee and the physician apologized to the patient.  To resolve this matter, OCR also required the practice to revise the office’s fax cover page to underscore a confidential communication for the intended recipient. The office informed all its employees of the incident and counseled staff on proper faxing procedures.

Two things pop about about this instance.  First, this was clearly a privacy violation.  The patient’s protected health information, which incidentally revealed his or her HIV status, we sent to the employer.  Secondly, it was evident from the facts that this was a mistake.  We aren’t told exactly how this mistake was made.  Was the fax number written down in the wrong box on the patient’s records?  Did the employee who faxed the records put the incorrect number on the fax cover sheet?  We may never know.  But this does raise the importance of being precise at all stages of the patient encounter to assure that no inadvertent violations occur.  Care you should be taken when information about the patient is initially entered into the system.  Individuals at all levels who may be responsible for transmitting PHI must be deliberate about their actions.  How many people have called or faxed something to the wrong person before?  How many people have written down the wrong telephone or fax number before?  Everyone?

This OCR settlement just illustrates that sometimes these small errors can have big implications.  It does not appear to have been any significant fines or loss of employment in this situation.  But we cannot downplay the potential embarrassment or other negative consequences of mistakes like these.  It is one thing to text your friend Bob rather than your friend Bobbie, and weirdly from Bob’s perspective say how wonderful last night was and how you can’t wait to see him again.  Telling a patient’s employer about their health condition can have consequences that are much harder to laugh off.

Medical Alerts – HIPAA Implications of Flagging Patient Records

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Identification of AIDS Status Through Medical Alert System

Dentist Revises Process to Safeguard Medical Alert PHI

AIDS identification external alert HIPAAA recent OCR investigation of a dental practice’s flagging of patients records highlights a potential HIPAA violation.  The OCR investigation confirmed allegations that the dental practice flagged some of its medical records with a red sticker with the word “AIDS” on the outside cover.   Records were handled so that other patients and staff without need to know could read the sticker.  A patient complaint commenced an OCR investigation into whether the practice potentially identified the AIDS status of patients within the office.

When notified of the complaint filed with OCR, the dental practice immediately removed the red AIDS sticker from the complainant’s file. To resolve this matter, OCR also required the practice to revise its policies and operating procedures and to move medical alert stickers to the inside cover of the records. Further, the covered entity’s Privacy Officer and other representatives met with the patient and apologized, and followed the meeting with a written apology.

The lesson here is not to place special medical alerts on the outside of physical patient records.  This is a particularly bad practice in a dental office where the typical office setup can result in visual identification by other patients.  If a patient is being escorted by staff and is seen by other patients, the identification on the outside of the patient’s chart can easily be connected to the patient.  This creates a very sensitive potential violation of HIPAA and other laws protecting against disclosure of the AIDS status of individuals.

Providing Protected Health Information in Response to Subpoena

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

OCR Citation for Improper Disclosure of PHI in Response to a Subpoena

unauthorized release phi subpoenaA health care provider or other covered entity under HIPAA is permitted to disclose protected health information if it receives a lawful order from a court or administrative tribunal.  this does not mean that a provider can simply release everything it has in a patient record when it receives a court order.  Some records, such as mental health or substance abuse records might have special protections or limitations that apply.  Additionally a provider should closely review the relevant order and only disclose the information that is specifically required by the order.

The ability to release information in response to a subpoena, as opposed to an order of a court, is subject to different rules.  Patient information can only be provided under subpoena if certain notification requirements of the Privacy Rule are met. The notification requirements require the provider who received the subpoena to obtain evidence that there were reasonable efforts to notify the person who is the subject of the information about the request.  This is intended to give the individual an opportunity to object to the disclosure, or obtain a protective order from the court.

The application of these rules are illustrated by a relatively recent OCR settlement involving a hospital that was accused of improperly disclosing PHI in response to a subpoena.  The hospital apparently failed to determine that reasonable efforts had been made to notify that individual whose PHI was being sought under the subpoena.  This had the effect of denying the individual the right to object or seek a protective order.

As part of the settlement with the Hospital, OCR required the hospital to revise its subpoena processing procedures. The new policies adopted by the offending hospital hold a lesson for all covered entities.  If a subpoena does not meet the requirements of the Privacy Rule, policy should require the covered entity to reach out to the party who issued the subpoena to explain the notification requirements.  Until those requirements are complied with, the information cannot be released.

Court Orders and Subpoenas – Release of Protected Health Information

Applying Section 1557 Discrimination Rules to Employer Sponsored Health Plans

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Section 1557 Covered Entities and Employer Sponsored Health Plans

Health Plan 1557 ComplianceSection 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits “covered entities” discrimination in health programs that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Human and Health Services.  Regulations were issued in 2016 that define the details of compliance with Section 1557 which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability and sex.  (including discrimination based on pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping).  The stated purpose for the rules is to expand access and eliminate barriers to the ability to obtain health care coverage.

The definition of “covered entities” to which Section 1557 apply is extremely broad.  Through the broad definition, the requirements of Section 1557 apply to any health program or activity that received federal financial assistance through the Department of Health and Human Service.  This definition includes most health care providers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and physician, who receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, insurance marketplace and exchanges and participating health plans.

The Section 1557 rules extend to some (but not all) employers that are group health plan sponsors.  Determining whether Section 1557 applies to a specific employer can be quite complicated and is based on several factors such as the sponsor’s primary business function, the nature and extent of federal financial assistance, whether the employer plan is self-funded or insured, and variety of other factors.

Failing to comply with Section 1557, where necessary, can expose an employer to significant risk.  Significant compliance exposure, coupled with complicated rules defining application of Section 1557, make this an extremely important area for employers. Employers should carefully assess whether they are subject to the requirements of Section 1557 and take steps to assure compliance where necessary.

Written Agreement Requirement for Disclosure of Part 2 Records

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Disclosure of Part 2 Records for Payment or Health Care Operations Requires Written Agreement

Regulations issued by SAMHSA in January of 2018, permit a lawful holder of Part 2 Records (relating to alcohol or substance abuse treatment) to disclose those records, with written consent of the patient, to its contractors, subcontractors, or legal representatives to carry out payment or healthcare operations on behalf of the lawful holder. The regulations list 17 examples of situations where a release may be considered appropriate. Disclosures to contractors, subcontractors, and legal representatives to carry out other purposes such as substance use disorder patient diagnosis, treatment, or referral for treatment are not permitted under the new rule.

In order to take advantage of the rule permitting disclosure for payment and/or health care operations, the lawful holder of the information is required to have in place a written contract or comparable legal instrument with the contractor or voluntary legal representative, which provides that the contractor, subcontractor, or voluntary legal representative is fully bound by the provisions of part 2 upon receipt of the patient identifying information.

In addition to having a proper contract in place, when making any such disclosures, the lawful holder must take the following further steps:

  • furnish such recipients with the notice required under § 2.32 of the regulations;
  • require such recipients to implement appropriate safeguards to prevent unauthorized uses and disclosures; and
  • require such recipients to report any unauthorized uses, disclosures, or breaches of patient identifying information to the lawful holder.

The lawful holder may only disclose information to the contractor or subcontractor or voluntary legal representative that is necessary for the contractor or subcontractor or voluntary legal representative to perform its duties under the contract or comparable legal instrument. Contracts may not permit a contractor or subcontractor or voluntary legal representative to re-disclose information to a third party unless that third party is a contract agent of the contractor or subcontractor, helping them provide services described in the contract, and only as long as the agent only further discloses the information back to the contractor or lawful holder from which the information originated.

17 Examples SAMHSA Payment and Health Care Operations

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Examples of Disclosures of Part 2 Records for Payment and Health Care Operations

In regulations released in January of 2018, SAMHSA included a list of 17 specific types of payment and health care operations in the regulatory text that would be the basis for further disclosures by a lawful holder of patient identifying information. SAMHSA did not include this list of 17 items in the regulations.  Rather, these items were contained in the preamble reflecting that additional reasons for release for payment and health care operations may be permissible.  Examples of permissible activities under § 2.33(b) that SAMHSA considers to be payment and health care operations activities include:

  • Billing, claims management, collections activities, obtaining payment under a contract for reinsurance, claims filing and related health care data processing;
  • Clinical professional support services (e.g., quality assessment and improvement initiatives; utilization review and management services);
  • Patient safety activities;
  • Activities pertaining to:
  • The training of student trainees and health care professionals;
  • The assessment of practitioner competencies;
  • The assessment of provider and/or health plan performance; and
  • Training of non-health care professionals;
  • Accreditation, certification, licensing, or credentialing activities;
  • Underwriting, enrollment, premium rating, and other activities related to the creation, renewal, or replacement of a contract of health insurance or health benefits, and ceding, securing, or placing a contract for reinsurance of risk relating to claims for health care;
  • Third-party liability coverage;
  • Activities related to addressing fraud, waste and abuse;
  • Conducting or arranging for medical review, legal services, and auditing functions;
  • Business planning and development, such as conducting cost management and planning-related analyses related to managing and
    operating, including formulary development and administration, development or improvement of methods of payment or coverage
    policies;
  • Business management and general administrative activities, including management activities relating to implementation of and compliance with the requirements of this or other statutes or regulations;
  • Customer services, including the provision of data analyses for policy holders, plan sponsors, or other customers;
  • Resolution of internal grievances;
  • The sale, transfer, merger, consolidation, or dissolution of an organization;
  • Determinations of eligibility or coverage (e.g. coordination of benefit services or the determination of cost sharing amounts), and adjudication or subrogation of health benefit claims;
  • Risk adjusting amounts due based on enrollee health status and demographic characteristics;
  • Review of health care services with respect to medical necessity, coverage under a health plan, appropriateness of care, or justification of charges.

SAMHSA believes it is important to maintain patient choice in disclosing information to health care providers with whom patients have direct contact. For this reason, the final provision in § 2.33(b) does not cover care coordination or case management and disclosures to contractors, subcontractors, and legal representatives to carry out such purposes are not permitted under this section. In addition, SAMHSA added language to the regulatory text in § 2.33(b) to clarify that disclosures to contractors, subcontractors and legal representatives are not permitted for activities related to a patient’s diagnosis, treatment, or referral for treatment.

Disclosures for Specific Payment or Health Care Operations Purposes (§ 2.33)

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Part 2 Records –  Specific Payment or Health Care Operations Purposes (§ 2.33)

Special restrictions apply to health information that is restricted under SAMHSA rules.  These rules protect patient information involving substance and alcohol treatment in Federal programs.  SAMHSA requirements are much more restrictive than HIPAA rules and must be considered, not only by substance abuse program, but also by providers and others who may receive these records and are subject to strict re-disclosure prohibitions.

The 2018 Rules finalizes the scope and requirements for permitted disclosures to contractors, subcontractors, and legal representatives for the purpose of payment and health care operations. SAMHSA lists 17 specific types of activities for which minimal information necessary may be disclosed for specific payment and health care operations activities. The 17 specific activites are listed in the preamble, rather than the regulatory text, as examples of potentially permissible disclosures.
SAMHSA states that its intent is for other appropriate payment and health care operations activities to be permitted beyond the 17 listed activities. In addition, consistent with SAMHSA’s prior statement in the SNPRM preamble, SAMHSA has added language to the regulatory text in § 2.33(b) to clarify that disclosures to contractors, subcontractors, and legal representatives are not permitted for activities related to a patient’s diagnosis, treatment, or referral for treatment. The rules require lawful holders of restricted information who engage contractors or subcontractors to carry out payment and health care operations activities to include specific contract provisions addressing compliance with part 2. Additionally, language was added to the regulation to clarify that disclosures to contractors, subcontractors, and legal representatives are not permitted for substance use disorder patient diagnosis, treatment, or referral for treatment.

CMS Position On Texting Physician Orders

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Texting of Physician Orders : CMS Statement Clarifies Position on Texting

Physician Order Texting RegulationsThe CMS Center for Clinical Standards and Quality/Survey & Certification Group recently released a Memorandum clarifying its position regarding texting of health care information. In S&C 18-10-ALL, dated December 28, 2017, CMS clarifies the following issues:

  • Texting of PHI Within Health Care Team.  CMS says that this is permissible on a secure platform.  Providers should develop policies covering texting among the care team.  Providers may want to consider special conditions, or even limiting or prohibiting this practice.  CMS, HIPAA and other standards need to be considered when developing provider specific policy.  State laws may differ and certain types of information may be subject to special restrictions.
  • Texting of Patient Orders.  Even though texting communication between care team members is permissible, CMS clarifies that texting patient orders is always prohibited; even on a secure platform.
  • Preferred Use of CPOE.  CMS clarifies that Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE) is the preferred method for a provider to enter a patient order.  Providers should review their policies regarding acceptable order platforms.  Special attention should be paid to texting practices.  Verbal orders are also an area of significant compliance and liability concerns.  Over-use of verbal orders and non-compliance with authentication requirements is very common and is a significant risk area.

You can reference the CMS Texting Guidance Letter on this issue directly.

I have been posting a series of articles on compliance issues relating to physician orders that you can also reference for additional guidance.  And as always, if you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me thhrough the contact form on this blog or directly through contact information on my law firm web site.

 

Physician Orders Legal and Regulatory Article Series

Physician Order Reimbursement Issues

Physician Orders – Why Are They So Important?

The Verbal Order Minefield

Authenticating Verbal Orders : Compliance Requirements

Third Party Authentication of Verbal Orders

Physician Order – CMS Guidelines on Texting Physician Orders

 

Authentication of Verbal Orders by Other Responsible Practitioner

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Authentication of Verbal Orders

Authenticating Verbal OrdersIn a past blog article, I discussed the need for physicians to promptly authenticate verbal orders. The failure of a physician to timely sign a verbal order can have reimbursement implications. In some cases, in some states, another responsible provider can sign a verbal order that is originally given by another practitioner. This option is not always available and depends a lot on whether state law permits the practice. Some states require the practitioner who gave the verbal order to authenticate the order. With the use of electronic medical records, practitioners cannot expect leniency on these types of requirements.

In states that permit one practitioner to authenticate for another, the authenticating proxy practitioner should understand that he or she is accepting responsibility for the authenticated verbal order. State scope of practice rules apply to cross authentication of orders. In otherwords, the practitioner authenticating the order must have practice authority to have provided the original verbal order. Facilities can develop policies that a more restrictive then what the law permits. Policy can eliminate or restrict cross authentication practices. There is inherent risk in permitting cross authentication because the authenticating provider did not give the original verbal order. Additionally, as covered in previous blog articles, verbal orders are over-used in many facilities and carry inherent risks. Facilities can enact policies to curtail the use of verbal orders. At minimum, facility policy should echo the CMS comments regarding the appropriate scope of use of verbal orders. Practices can be audited to determine whether a practitioner is overusing verbal orders.

Physician Orders Legal and Regulatory Article Series

Physician Order Reimbursement Issues

Physician Orders – Why Are They So Important?

The Verbal Order Minefield

Authenticating Verbal Orders : Compliance Requirements

Third Party Authentication of Verbal Orders

Physician Order – CMS Guidelines on Texting Physician Orders

Verbal Orders Documentation and Authentication

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

The Verbal Order Minefield

Authenticating Verbal OrdersPhysicians often provide orders over the telephone in cases where action must be taken immediately. For example, verbal orders must be given by a physician who is on call or off duty but an issue arises that requires staff to take immediate action. Physician orders are generally effective when they are given, subject to appropriate documentation. Verbal orders are effective when provided verbally, but must be properly recorded in the medical records and authenticated or signed by the ordering physician.

Verbal Order Policies and Procedures

Normally, the facility will have policies in place that provide guidance on how staff should handle verbal orders. Those policies will define who is authorized to receive a verbal order from a physician as well as the process for taking a verbal order. Many facilities use a “read-back” requirement that requires the provider who receives the order to read the order back to the physician and receive confirmation. The receiving provider is required to document the receipt of the verbal order in the chart.

Over-use of Verbal Orders

Medicare policy (and many state laws) clarifies that verbal orders are not to be used as common practice. Verbal orders are not to be used for the convenience of the physician, but only when the patient’s condition or status requires immediate attention and when it is impossible or impractical to enter the order without creating unacceptable delays in needed treatment. Even though verbal orders are to be used infrequently under Medicare policy, their use has become very commonplace in many facilities. Frequent use of verbal orders increases risk in a variety of ways. Verbal orders leave room for error. This can be mitigated by using a read-back process, but risk of misinterpretation or incorrect fulfillment will be enhanced when verbal orders are used. Verbal orders contribute significantly to the risk of medication error and a variety of other potential adverse patient incidents.

Another significant risk of using verbal orders relates to the need to meet authentication requirements. CMS rules direct medical reviewers to disregard orders that are not properly authenticated. All orders, including verbal orders, are required to be dated, timed, and authenticated promptly by the ordering practitioner.

Authentication of Verbal Orders by Ordering Physician

In terms of timing, Medicare guidance requires the ordering physician to sign the verbal order promptly. Some states, such as Wisconsin, require the ordering physician to sign the order within 24 hours of providing the verbal order. Medicare ties into state law requirements in this area. This is an area of significant potential risk for a facility where physician’s routinely use verbal orders during off-shift times. It can be days before the physician is back at the facility. It used to be that reviewers provided a lot of slack on the followup physician signature requirement. With the integration of electronic medical records and the use of electronic signatures, the timing requirements for physician signatures on verbal orders are enforced strictly.

CMS has gotten a bit more lenient on certain delayed medical record entries. Amendments, corrections, and delayed medical record entries are now given credit in medical review. This leniency does not apply with respect to certain types of physician orders. For example, late or corrected entries to support orders for inpatient admission or outpatient observation services are not accepted and are treated as they do not exist on medical review. Again, failure to properly and timely authenticate an “order” in contrast to an “entry,” has reimbursement implications. This makes it critical to assure that orders are completely documented. Verbal order use should be limited to appropriate cases. Verbal orders are over-used in many facilities. When verbal orders are used, prompt authentication requirements should be enforced. Strict time limitations may exist under state law. For example, Wisconsin requires verbal orders to be be signed by the ordering provider within 24 hours.

Physician Orders Legal and Regulatory Article Series

Physician Order Reimbursement Issues

Physician Orders – Why Are They So Important?

The Verbal Order Minefield

Authenticating Verbal Orders : Compliance Requirements

Third Party Authentication of Verbal Orders

Physician Order – CMS Guidelines on Texting Physician Orders

John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
500 First Street, Suite 8000
P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

Tel 715.845.4336
Fax 715.845.2718

Ruder Ware is a member of Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

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