HIPAA violation during series filming earns $2.2 million settlement

Thanks to modern technology, most every component of life is documented more closely than ever before. From social media posts going viral to cameras and other mobile technology catching even the most mundane of moments, the definition of privacy is rapidly evolving. While this may not be a practical concern for some industries, it is a challenge of the utmost important for healthcare organizations that handle private information for patients.  When enough attention is not given to these matters, the results can be costly - both to patient privacy and an organization's bottom line.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, more commonly referred to as HIPAA, is the standard by which this private health information is protected. But healthcare facilities do not always meet its standards. On April 21, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights announced that the New York- Presbyterian Hospital agreed to a $2.2 million settlement for a HIPAA violation that occurred during filming of a documentary series.

A HIPAA violation caught on film
Some mistakes in healthcare are minor and remain an internal affair  while others are less subtle. For New York-Presbyterian Hospital, a recent HIPAA mistake was made very clear. In fact, it was caught on film - which was the problem. According to Healthcare IT News, a crew used the hospital to film scenes for the documentary series "NY Med." The series featured Dr. Mehmet Oz - of "The Dr. Oz Show"fame  - who is a surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

While filming in a hospital is not a HIPAA violation in and of itself, the healthcare facility ran into trouble because the crew recorded two patients in the hospital, one who was dying and the other who was in extreme distress, Healthcare IT News reported. Neither had granted permission for these recordings, and a medical professional even urged the crew to stop filming, a request which was ignored.

Unintentionally violating HIPAA privacy rules can ruin an otherwise enjoyable film or television show.Unintentionally violating HIPAA privacy rules can ruin an otherwise enjoyable film or television show.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, any form of media personnel - including film crews - cannot be allowed into areas where protected patient information, referred to as PPI, or protected electronic health information will be accessible. An exception is allowed if the media member or team receives consent in advance from anyone whose person or information will be in the area. There are a few select circumstances when media can receive access to these kinds of protected information without express consent, but they are rare under HIPAA rules.

"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," Jocelyn Samuels, director of the OCR, said in a statement.

A growing concern
The HIPAA violation highlights the growing challenge of ensuring privacy in an age where electronic health information and paper records alike can be caught in the background of selfies, mobile phone videos and other seemingly-innocent mediums. Between social media, reality television and other means that push what used to be private into the public sphere, providers must remain diligent in the ways that technology is transforming healthcare and how protected information consequently needs to be treated.

"HIPAA rules require reasonable safeguards to be put in place."

According to HIPAA rules, reasonable safeguards must be in place to ensure the security of protected health information that has not been released. In addition to the filing of the two patients without their consent, the OCR found that the hospital was also negligent in this area.

"I think this will have a chilling effect on hospitals going forward," Dr. Joel Geiderman, chairman of the American College of Emergency Physicians's ethics committee, told The New York Times. "Any hospital legal counsel worth his salt or any P.R. director would be committing malpractice in order to allow it to occur. It's now embodied in a federal directive."

While the popularity of medical dramas all but ensures that television crews will remain interested in filming in real healthcare facilities, the settlement will likely give hospitals and other facilities a moment of pause before consenting to the crew's request.

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