Arizona Cardiac Surgeons Pay $100,000 To Settle HIPAA Violations Reply

An Arizone cardiac surgery group has agreed to pay $100,000 to resolve an investigation into potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). In the agreement the surgical group did not offer an admission of liability but did agree to implement a corrective action plan in addition to the payment.

According to the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the investigation of Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, PC, which is owned by two cardiac surgeons, Pierre Tibi and H. Kenith Fang, began when OCR received a report that the group’s clinical and surgical appointments were available to the public on an internet-based calendar. As part of its investigation OCR discovered that the group had failed to implement policies and procedures to comply with HIPAA and “had limited safeguards in place to protect patients’ electronic protected health information.”

OCR listed a number of specific problems:

Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to implement adequate policies and procedures to appropriately safeguard patient information;

Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to document that it trained any employees on its policies and procedures on the Privacy and Security Rules;

Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to identify a security official and conduct a risk analysis; and

Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to obtain business associate agreements with Internet-based email and calendar services where the provision of the service included storage of and access to its ePHI.

“This case is significant because it highlights a multi-year, continuing failure on the part of this provider to comply with the requirements of the Privacy and Security Rules,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of OCR, in an HHS press release. “We hope that health care providers pay careful attention to this resolution agreement and understand that the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules have been in place for many years, and OCR expects full compliance no matter the size of a covered entity.”

One of the co-owners of the group, Pierre Tibi, is a former president of the Phoenix Board of Directors of the American Heart Assocation and has been a principal investigator in several large clinical trials, including Primo CABG II and EVEREST II.

Here is the press release from the HHS:

HHS settles case with Phoenix Cardiac Surgery for lack of HIPAA safeguards

Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C., of Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona, has agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) a $100,000 settlement and take corrective action to implement policies and procedures to safeguard the protected health information of its patients.

The settlement with the physician practice follows an extensive investigation by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.

The incident giving rise to OCR’s investigation was a report that the physician practice was posting clinical and surgical appointments for its patients on an Internet-based calendar that was publicly accessible.   On further investigation, OCR found that Phoenix Cardiac Surgery had implemented few policies and procedures to comply with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, and had limited safeguards in place to protect patients’ electronic protected health information (ePHI).

“This case is significant because it highlights a multi-year, continuing failure on the part of this provider to comply with the requirements of the Privacy and Security Rules,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of OCR.  “We hope that health care providers pay careful attention to this resolution agreement and understand that the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules have been in place for many years, and OCR expects full compliance no matter the size of a covered entity.”

OCR’s investigation also revealed the following issues:

  • Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to implement adequate policies and procedures to appropriately safeguard patient information;
  • Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to document that it trained any employees on its policies and procedures on the Privacy and Security Rules;
  • Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to identify a security official and conduct a risk analysis; and
  • Phoenix Cardiac Surgery failed to obtain business associate agreements with Internet-based email and calendar services where the provision of the service included storage of and access to its ePHI.

Under the HHS resolution agreement, Phoenix Cardiac Surgery has agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement amount and a corrective action plan that includes a review of recently developed policies and other actions taken to come into full compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules.

Individuals who believe that a covered entity has violated their (or someone else’s) health information privacy rights or committed another violation of the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rule may file a complaint with OCR at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/complaints/index.html.

The HHS Resolution Agreement can be found athttp://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/pcsurgery_agreement.pdf

Additional information about OCR’s enforcement activities can be found athttp://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/index.html.
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