OCR Settles Case Concerning Improper Disposal of Protected Health Information

Investigation Leads to $300,640 HIPAA Settlement and Corrective Action Plan 

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a settlement with New England Dermatology P.C., d/b/a New England Dermatology and Laser Center (“NDELC”), over the improper disposal of protected health information, a potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. As a result, NEDLC paid $300,640 to OCR and agreed to implement a corrective action plan to resolve this investigation. NEDLC is located in Massachusetts and provides dermatology services. 

On May 11, 2021, NEDLC filed a breach report with OCR stating that empty specimen containers with protected health information on the labels were placed in a garbage bin in their parking lot. The containers’ labels included patient names and dates of birth, dates of sample collection, and name of the provider who took the specimen. OCR’s investigation, conducted by OCR’s New England Regional Office, found potential violations of the HIPAA Privacy Rule including the impermissible use and disclosure of PHI and failure to maintain appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of PHI. 

“Improper disposal of protected health information creates an unnecessary risk to patient privacy,” said Acting OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “HIPAA regulated entities should take every step to ensure that safeguards are in place when disposing of patient information to keep it from being accessible by the public.” 

In addition to the monetary settlement, NEDLC will undertake a robust corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring. A copy of the resolution agreement and corrective action plan may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/nedlc-ra-cap/index.html 

 OCR offers helpful FAQs concerning HIPAA and the disposal of protected health information: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/disposalfaqs.pdf – PDF 

If you believe that a HIPAA-covered entity or its business associate violated your (or someone else’s) health information privacy rights or committed another violation of the Privacy, Security, or Breach Notification Rules, you may file a complaint with OCR: https://ocrportal.hhs.gov/ocr/smartscreen/main.jsf

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