$2.4M Bill From OCR for Publishing Patient Name


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Publishing a patient’s name in the title of a press release cost the Memorial Hermann Health System in Texas $2.4 million.

MHHS agreed to the monetary settlement and corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, according to a May 10 announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. 

MHHS, a network of 16 not-for-profit hospitals in Southeast Texas, disclosed a patient’s protected health information following a September 2015 incident.  

The incident occurred when a patient at an MHHS clinic presented an allegedly fraudulent identification card to office staff. The staff immediately alerted law enforcement authorities of the incident, a disclosure of PHI permitted under the HIPAA rules. However, the subsequent disclosures of PHI in meetings, press releases, and on the MHHS website documenting the incident and including the patient’s name aren’t considered permissible. 

Additionally, MHHS failed to show that employees who impermissibly disclosed PHI had been sanctioned.   

Under HIPAA, health care providers are required to protect their patient’s privacy but can make certain exceptions to cooperate with law enforcement.

The OCR found that senior management should have been aware that publicly disclosing a patient’s name on the title of a press release was a HIPAA violation. 

MHHS’s corrective action plan requires they update policies and procedures on safeguarding PHI from future impermissible disclosures and that all MHHS facilities confirm they understand permissible uses and disclosures of PHI. 

Being unaware and failing to comply with HIPAA privacy and security rules can add up. In April 2017, Cadrionet, a wireless health services provider, agreed to a $2.5 million settlement following the theft of a company laptop from an employee’s vehicle containing the PHI of 1,391 individuals. (See related story, OCR Fines Wireless Health Services Provider $2.5M.)

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