Health Law Alert: Deficient Data Security On Mobile Devices Leads To First HIPAA Breach Settlement Involving Less Than 500 Patients

by Stinson Leonard Street

On January 2, 2013, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced its first HIPAA breach settlement involving less than 500 patients. OCR took action against a hospice provider in Idaho that had a laptop stolen containing health information on 441 patients. The provider was required to pay OCR a fine of $50,000 and enter into a corrective action plan to settle the investigation.

OCR Allegations

The mere fact that a laptop was stolen was not the only reason for OCR's investigation. Instead, OCR alleged that the provider did not "conduct an accurate and thorough analysis of the risk to the confidentiality of [electronic health information] on an on-going basis as part of its security management process…." This included a failure to evaluate potential risks to information as a result of maintaining and transmitting data on mobile devices and take necessary steps to mitigate these risks.

Significance of Action

While many are aware that OCR has been ramping up enforcement of HIPAA breaches in recent years, this settlement is significant for two reasons:

First, OCR pursued this action in a case that involved far fewer patients than previous enforcement actions. Indeed, while breaches of more than 500 patients' data must be reported to OCR immediately, smaller breaches do not require notification to OCR under the HIPAA data breach rules until January/February of the following calendar year. In this case, the breach happened in June 2010 and notice to OCR did not occur until in February 2011. OCR pursued an investigation and action against the provider only after this annual report, rather than as a result of an individual complaint, as is often the case.

Second, this action relates to the most common cause of data breaches: lost or stolen mobile devices. OCR took issue with the fact that the provider had not conducted a risk analysis with respect to these common breaches and did not have policies and procedures in place to address mobile device security. This is an area of concern that is greatly increasing due to advancements in mobility of data and the nearly ubiquitous nature of mobile devices. The stepped up enforcement by OCR means that entities covered by HIPAA will want to take proactive, rather than reactive, measures to address mobile device security.

Proactive Steps to Take

As a reminder, the HIPAA rules and regulations apply to health care providers, insurers and their business associates (entities that perform activities on behalf of providers and insurers and have access to health information). This means that a large swath of the health care industry is subject to the data breach provisions of HIPAA, including, but definitely not limited to, health care providers.

All entities subject to HIPAA are required to take proactive measures to evaluate the safety and security of their electronic health information. Due to the high prevalence of data breach issues, these measures should include a review of methods to safeguard data on mobile devices utilized by personnel and contractors. Underscoring the importance of such proactive measures, OCR has launched a website to assist entities in understanding the risks of utilizing mobile devices and making a plan for proper, secure use of such technology.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Stinson Leonard Street | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Stinson Leonard Street

Stinson Leonard Street on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.