$2 Million+ HIPAA Settlement, FAQ Warn Providers Protect PHI From Media, Other Recording Or Use

Unauthorized Filming for “NY Med” Results in $2.2 Million Settlement with New York Presbyterian Hospital; New FAQ Details Requirements When Dealing With Media

 Physicians, hospitals and other health care providers, health plans and health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates should review and tighten policies for allowing members of the media and even other staff, patients or visitors in their facilities not involved in patient care to film, photograph or otherwise observe a patient without that patient’s authorization in light of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) just announced $2.2 million Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy and Security Rules (HIPAA) Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) with New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) for allowing unauthorized filming and photographing of patients in its facility and concurrently released new OCR guidance about the duty of Covered Entities and business associates under HIPAA to prevent unauthorized photography or filming of patients and new concurrently published guidance on HIPAA’s implications on Covered Entities’ duties when dealing with the media.

Settlements Show Duty To Control Media & Other Recording, Use Or Access To PHI

The NYP Resolution Agreement resolves charges arising from an OCR investigation of a complaint that on April 28, 2011, NYP violated HIPAA by impermissibly disclosing patients’ PHI to a film crew and other staff of “NY Med,” a television program being filmed in the hospital.  According to the Resolution Agreement, OCR’s investigation revealed that NYP “blatantly” violated HIPAA when it allowed ABC film crews and staff virtually unfettered access to its health care facility.  OCR says the access NYP allowed ABC effectively created an environment where patients PHI could not be protected from impermissible disclosure to the ABC film crew and staff filming the episode.  While the Resolution Agreement reflects allowing the filming and other access to ABC without prior HIPAA-compliant authorization from patients in the facility itself violated HIPAA, OCR also particularly found “egregious” the facility allowing ABC film crews and staff to film a dying patient and another patient in significant distress without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from each of those patients and even more so that NYP failed stop the filming even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop.

Based on its investigation, OCR charged NYP with violating 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.502(a) and 164.530(c) by:

  • Impermissibly disclosing the PHI of two identified patients to the film crew and other staff of “NY Med”; and
  • Failing appropriately and reasonably to safeguard its patients’ PHI from disclosure during the filming of “NY Med” on its premises; and
  • Failing to implement policies, procedures and practices to protect the privacy of its filming of aforementioned television show.

OCR made clear that it intends other Covered Entities to learn by example from the NYP experience in its April 21, 2016 announcement of the Resolution Agreement when it quotes OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels as stating, “This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization.”

Control Unauthorized Filming, Photography Of Patients By Media, Others

OCR reinforced its clear message about the responsibility of Covered Entities and business associates under HIPAA to protect PHI against unauthorized disclosure to the media in the NYP Resolution Agreement and its announcement by concurrently publishing a new Frequently Asked Question available here that specifically discusses dealings with the media.

Among other things, the Media FAQ expressly states that except in very limited circumstances identified in the Media FAQ, HIPAA prohibits health care providers from inviting or allowing media personnel into treatment or other areas where patients or patient PHI will be accessible in written, electronic, oral, or other visual or audio form, or otherwise making PHI accessible to the media, without prior written authorization from each individual who is or will be in the area or whose PHI otherwise will be accessible to the media except in a very limited set of circumstances set forth in the Media FAQ.

The Media FAQ also states, “It is not sufficient for a health care provider to request or require media personnel to mask the identities of patients (using techniques such as blurring, pixelation, or voice alteration software) for whom an authorization was not obtained, because the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not allow media access to the patients’ PHI, absent an authorization, in the first place.

In addition, the Media FAQ states that a health care provider also must ensure that reasonable safeguards are in place to protect against impermissible disclosures or to limit incidental disclosures of other PHI that may be in the area but for which an authorization has not been obtained.

Concerning the limited circumstances when a health care provider or other Covered Entity or business associate may disclose to the media or allow unconsented filming, photographing or use of PHI to the media or other film crews, the Media FAQ also clarifies that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not require health care providers to prevent members of the media from entering areas of their facilities that are otherwise generally accessible to the public like public waiting areas or areas where the public enters or exits the facility.

In addition, the Media FAQ states a health care provider or other Covered Entity may:

  • Disclose limited PHI about the incapacitated patient to the media in accordance with the requirements of 45 C.F.R. 164.510(b)(1)(ii) when, in the hospital’s professional judgment, doing so is in the patient’s best interest; or
  • Disclose a patient’s location in the facility and condition in general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual to any person, including the media, without obtaining a HIPAA authorization where the individual has not objected to his information being included in the facility directory, and the media representative or other person asks for the individual by name as specified in 45 C.F.R. 164.510(a).

The Media FAQ also discusses circumstances where a healthcare provider or other Covered Entity may use the services of a contract film crew to produce training videos or public relations materials on the provider’s behalf if the provider ensures that the film crew acting as a business associate enters into a HIPAA compliant business associate agreement with the Covered Entity which among other things ensures that the film crew will safeguard the PHI it obtains, only use or disclose the PHI for the purposes provided in the agreement, and return or destroy any PHI after the work for the health care provider has been completed as required by 45 C.F.R. 164.504(e)(2). The Media FAQ also states that as a business associate, the film crew must comply with the HIPAA Security Rule and a number of provisions in the Privacy Rule, including the Rule’s restrictions on the use and disclosure of PHI.  In addition, the Media FAQ reminds Covered Entities and business associates of the need to obtain prior authorizations from patients whose PHI is included in any materials before any of those materials are posted online, printed in brochures for the public, or otherwise publicly disseminated.

Finally, the Media FAQ states Covered Entities can continue to inform the media of their treatment services and programs so that the media can better inform the public, provided that, in doing so, the covered entity does not share PHI with the media without the prior authorization of the individuals who are the subject of the PHI.

Filming, Photography & Access By Others Beyond The Media

While the NYP Resolution Agreement and the Media FAQ specifically focus on access, filming and photography to film crews and members of the Media, a close reading of the NYP Resolution Agreement suggests that Covered Entities and their business associates also should consider reevaluating their the adequacy and advisability of their policies and practices for monitoring and controlling photography and filming by more than just members of the media and film crews within their facilities. As part of the corrective actions required under the Resolution Agreement, NYP must adopt and enforce a specific prohibition against NYP or any of its workforce members, agents or business associates permitting the use or disclosure of PHI by or to “any person or entity planning, coordinating or engaging in, for purposes not related to the provision of medical care, photography, video recording or audio recording” without the prior authorization of the patient who is the subject of the PHI sought to be disclosed. (emphasis added).

The Resolution Agreement further reinforces the breadth of a Covered Entity’s duty to protect patients from being filmed or photographed without their authorization by others not involved in the care of the patient by its requirement that NYP require that “all photography, video recording and audio recording conducted on NYP premises” be reviewed, preapproved and actively monitored by appropriate NYP representatives for compliance with the Privacy Rule and NYP’s policies.

Like discussion included in the Media FAQ about disclosures beyond those to outside media, this discussion in the NYP Resolution Agreement signals that beyond their media dealings, Covered Entities and business associates also should use care to appropriately monitor and control film, photographic, audio or other recording and other access or observation of patients or areas where patient PHI is located by not just the media, but “any third party not involved in patient care.”

Act To Manage HIPAA & Other Patient Filming, Photography & Media Risks

In response to the NYP Resolution Agreement and new Media FAQ, Covered Entities and their business associates clearly should consider conducting a well-documented assessment of their current policies, practices and workforce training on allowing media or other parties to enter, film, photograph or record within nonpublic areas of their facilities or otherwise disclosing or allowing media access to their facilities.

Furthermore, given the statements in the NYP Resolution Agreement and additional guidance in the new Media FAQ, most Covered Entities and their business associates also will want to evaluate their policies, practices, controls and workforce training about when the Covered Entity or its business associate will allow any party not involved in care of a particular patient to film, photograph, or otherwise record, observe or access areas where patients or patient PHI is or might be present without prior written consent of the patient.

When conducting this review and analysis, Covered Entities and their business associates also should use care to consider and properly accommodate other potential legal or ethical responsibilities such as medical confidentiality duties applicable to physicians and other health care providers under medical ethics, professional licensure or other similar rules, contractual responsibilities, as well as common law privacy or other related exposures.

Since this analysis and review in most cases will result in the uncovering or discussion of potentially legally or politically sensitive information, Covered Entities and their business associates generally will want to consult with experienced legal counsel to arrange to conduct this review with the guidance of legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

About The Author

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer’s more than 28 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health and other employee benefit, human resources, and related insurance, health care, privacy and data security and tax matters and policy.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help health industry, insurance and financial services and other employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compliance and internal controls, risk management, human resources and other workforce performance, discipline, compensation, employee benefits and related programs, products and arrangements.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act, HIPAA and other privacy and data security, federal state and local laws and regulations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers and many other business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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