On April 17, 2012, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced a settlement and corrective action plan with Phoenix Cardiac Surgery, P.C. (Phoenix), a small cardiology practice based in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona. More specifically, Phoenix has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle allegations of HIPAA violations arising out of an investigation conducted by OCR.

OCR’s investigation of Phoenix followed a report that Phoenix was posting clinical and surgical appointments for its patients on an Internet-based calendar that was publicly accessible. On further investigation, OCR discovered the following issues:

  • Phoenix failed to implement adequate policies and procedures to appropriately safeguard patient information;
  • Phoenix failed to document that it trained any employees on its policies and procedures on the Privacy and Security Rules;
  • Phoenix failed to identify a security official and conduct a risk analysis; and
  • Phoenix 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 electronic protected health information.

This settlement serves as additional evidence of OCR’s increased focus on enforcement actions for alleged HIPAA violations, following just one month after the first enforcement action resulting from a breach self-report under the Breach Notification Rule. According to Leon Rodriguez, Director of OCR, he “hope[s] 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.” Additionally, the settlement provides further evidence that OCR will likely view any investigation of an alleged Privacy or Security Rule infraction as an opportunity to conduct a de facto audit of the entity’s general compliance with HIPAA.

In addition to the $100,000 settlement, the Resolution Agreement between Phoenix and OCR requires Phoenix to develop and maintain written Privacy and Security policies, which will set forth, at a minimum, administrative safeguards, technical safeguards, and training of all Phoenix’s workforce members. In addition, Phoenix will provide specific training on the Privacy and Security policies within 60 days of OCR’s approval to all workforce members who use or disclose protected health information and will report any violations of those policies and procedures by a workforce member to OCR within 30 days. Phoenix did not admit any liability in the agreement and OCR did not concede that Phoenix was not liable for civil monetary penalties.

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