Lawyers: What You Don’t Know About HIPAA Could Hurt You

Do you receive, use, store, or transmit personal health information (PHI) on behalf of clients?  If so, you are a “business associate” under HIPAA. 

As a business associate, lawyers must implement privacy and security programs to protect against improper use or disclosure of client health information. They are also obliged to ensure that their subcontractors (digital print shops, cloud providers, legal nurse consultants, medical experts) follow HIPAA rules.

Practice Areas Affected by HIPAA Regulations

HIPAA has the potential of touching more than the obvious practice areas:

  • Personal Injury
  • Insurance Defense
  • Social Security
  • Workers Compensation
  • Medical Malpractice

Any lawyer who reviews or obtains inforamtion concerning payment for health care is also a business associate under the act.  This may affect lawyers who practice in:

  • Conservatorships and Guardianships
  • Estate Planning
  • Probate
  • Business Law
  • Insurance Law
  • Bankruptcy
  • Debt Collection

For more information on how HIPAA may apply to your law firm, see Kelly T. Hagan, “Business Associate, Esq.: HIPAA’s New Normal,” in the September 2013 issue of In Brief, available on the PLF Web site > In Brief.

Hagan recommends lawyers take the following steps now:

  1. Identify Privacy and Security Officials. This is not only required by rule, it places responsibility with identified persons. So long as everyone is responsible, no one is.
  2. Document a Risk Analysis. Again, this is required, not simply a good idea. The firm may wish to take this on, or may look to compliance professionals for assistance.
  3. Focus on Mobile Devices. The OCR hates PDAs. Data breaches resulting from stolen or misplaced laptops, iPhones, or Blackberries with PHI on them or accessible through them are a recurring breach scenario.
  4. Compile Existing Policies and Procedures. We all have policies and procedures for keeping files safe and secure. You may be surprised at how far along you already are. You won’t know what is left to be done until you have all of your explicit materials in one place and can compare them to your legal obligations.

The Multnomah Bar Association is offering a CLE on October 17 entitled HIPAA Omnibus Rule Compliance Checklist – For Law Firms and Other Entities that Fall Within the Definition of a Business Associate.  This promises to be an incredibly helpful program for lawyers and legal staff.  If you can’t attend, the MBA records and archives all CLEs for later access.

3 thoughts on “Lawyers: What You Don’t Know About HIPAA Could Hurt You

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