Physician Practice Roundup—Doctor’s TV interview results in $125K HIPAA fine for practice

HIPAA document
A $125,000 HIPAA fine provides a cautionary tale for physican practices about the need to protect patient privacy. (Getty/designer491)

Doctor’s TV interview results in $125K HIPAA fine for practice

A Connecticut physicians group has been hit with a $125,000 fine for alleged HIPAA violations after one of its doctors spoke to a TV reporter in a dispute with a patient over bringing a service animal to the allergy practice.

Allergy Associates of Hartford agreed to pay the fine to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and to adopt a corrective plan that includes two years of monitoring to settle potential HIPAA violations, the government agency said in an announcement. The unnamed physician, who ignored the advice of the practice’s privacy officer to either not respond to the media or respond with “no comment,” impermissibly disclosed the patient’s protected health information to the reporter, the agency said.

The incident began in 2015 when a patient contacted a local television station to air her complaint that she was allegedly turned away from the practice because of her service animal. OCR investigators found the practice did not take any disciplinary action against the doctor or take any corrective action following the disclosure to the media. “When a patient complains about a medical practice, doctors cannot respond by disclosing private patient information to the media,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “Because egregious disclosures can lead to substantial penalties, covered entities need to pay close attention to HIPAA’s privacy rules, especially when responding to press inquiries.” (Announcement)

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California’s right-to-die law withstands court challenge for now

A California appeals court upheld the state’s right-to-die law earlier this week. The appeals court directed a superior trial court to nullify a ruling made in May that temporarily suspended the state’s End of Life Option Act. The court ruled that the physician plaintiffs in the case lack “legal standing” to challenge the law since it does not directly affect them or their patients because they can opt out of participation, said the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

The latest appeals court ruling, however, is unlikely to end the legal wrangling as the plaintiffs can file a challenge. A Superior Court judge invalidated the medical aid-in-dying law in May saying it was improperly enacted. However, an appeals court granted a stay in June reinstating the law that allows doctors to write prescriptions for terminally ill patients who want the drugs to end their lives. 

“The good news is that the law remains intact for the foreseeable future, so doctors can write prescriptions for terminally ill Californians who need the option of medical aid-in-dying,” said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices, in a statement. (Ruling)

U.S. life expectancy drops again as opioid deaths and suicide rates climb

Life expectancy for Americans dropped once again in 2017 as the rates of fatal opioid overdoses and suicides continued to increase, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The mortality rate in the U.S. increased last year for the second time in the past three years, the CDC said. An American born in 2017 is expected to live to 78.6 years—a decrease from 78.7 years in 2016. In 2017, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States, the CDC said. (CDC report)

Flu vaccine misconceptions rise to highest level in 3 years

Misconceptions about the risks and benefits of the seasonal flu vaccine rose in 2018 to their highest level in three years, according to a survey of primary care physicians from InCrowd.

Some 51% of physicians who responded to the survey said there is confusion among patients who decline a flu shot, up from 44% in 2016. The survey also found that slightly more patients (61%) will receive their flu shot in their doctor’s office. However, 18% of patients will get their shot at pharmacy or grocery locations.

While they say that makes for easy access to flu shots, physicians (37%) were concerned the vaccinations may not be recorded in a patient’s medical record. That may be a valid worry as 42% of pharmacists said their clinic does not provide a record of a pharmacy-administered flu shot directly to the patient’s primary care physician. However, 42% of pharmacists say their clinic automates the fax to the patient’s doctor as a record of a flu shot, and 16% connect directly to the medical record. (Release)

Verma says interoperability rule is coming, backs data sharing as a Medicare requirement

A much-anticipated proposed rule on interoperability should be coming “shortly,” according to a top Trump administration official.

“Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we’ll have some more clarity,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma told reporters on Tuesday.

A rule titled “Interoperability and Patient Access” is still under review by the Office of Management and Budget. The proposal, deemed “economically significant,” vaguely says it will “move the healthcare industry toward a more accessible and interoperable healthcare ecosystem.”

While Verma didn’t comment on the specifics of the rule, she threw her support behind requiring health systems and physician practices to provide patients access to their medical records in order to participate in Medicare. (FierceHealthIT)