Data privacy and security legislation and enforcement saw significant activity in 2018 and early 2019. McDermott’s 2018 Digital Health Year in Review: Focus on Data report – the first in a four-part series – highlights notable developments and guidance that health care providers, digital health companies and other health care industry stakeholders should navigate in 2019. Here, we summarize four key issues that stakeholders should watch in the coming year. For more in-depth discussion of these and other notable issues, access the full report.

  1. EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enhances protections for certain personal data on an international scale. US-based digital health providers and vendors that either (a) offer health care or other services or monitor the behavior of individuals residing in the EU, or (b) process personal data on behalf of entities conducting such activities should be mindful of the GDPR’s potential applicability to their operations and take heed of any GDPR obligations, including, but not limited to, enhanced notice and consent requirements and data subject rights, as well as obligations to execute GDPR-compliant contracts with vendors processing personal data on their behalf.
  2. California passes groundbreaking data privacy law. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which takes effect on January 1, 2020, will regulate the collection, use and disclosure of personal information pertaining to California residents by for-profit businesses – even those that are not based in California – that meet one or more revenue or volume thresholds. Similar in substance to the GDPR, the CCPA gives California consumers more visibility and control over their personal information. The CCPA will affect clinical and other scientific research activities of academic medical centers and other research organizations in the United States if the research involves information about California consumers.
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) continues aggressive HIPAA enforcement. OCR announced 10 enforcement actions and collected approximately $25.68 million in settlements and civil money penalties from HIPAA-regulated entities in 2018. OCR also published two pieces of guidance and one tool for organizations navigating HIPAA compliance challenges in the digital health space.
  4. Interoperability and the flow of information in the health care ecosystem continues to be a priority. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) submitted its proposed rule to implement various provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in September 2018; this is one of the final steps before a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register and public comment period opens. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its own interoperability proposed rule and finalized changes to the Promoting Interoperability (PI) programs to reduce burden and emphasize interoperability of inpatient prospective payment systems and long-term care hospital prospective payment systems.

The US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will soon begin a second phase of audits for compliance with HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification standards as required by the HITECH Act. In this second phase, OCR will audit both covered entities and their business associates, unlike the pilot audits of 2011 and 2012, which focused on covered entities alone. This On the Subject details practical steps that covered entities, including employer-sponsored group health plans, and their business associates can take to prepare for a potential audit.

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HIPAA covered entities have reported that the HHS Office for Civil Rights recently sent pre-audit screening surveys to a pool of covered entities that may be selected for the previously delayed second phase of HIPAA compliance audits. This On the Subject describes the phase two audit program and identifies steps that covered entities and business associates should take to prepare for these audits.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will soon begin a second phase of audits (Phase 2 Audits) of compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy, security and breach notification standards (HIPAA Standards) as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Unlike the pilot audits during 2011 and 2012 (Phase 1 Audits), which focused on covered entities, OCR will conduct Phase 2 Audits of both covered entities and business associates.  The Phase 2 Audit Program will focus on areas of greater risk to the security of protected health information (PHI) and pervasive noncompliance based on OCR’s Phase I Audit findings and observations, rather than a comprehensive review of all of the HIPAA Standards.  The Phase 2 Audits are also intended to identify best practices and uncover risks and vulnerabilities that OCR has not identified through other enforcement activities.  OCR will use the Phase 2 Audit findings to identify technical assistance that it should develop for covered entities and business associates.  In circumstances where an audit reveals a serious compliance concern, OCR may initiate a compliance review of the audited organization that could lead to civil money penalties.

The following sections summarize OCR’s Phase 1 Audit findings, describe the Phase 2 Audit program and identify steps that covered entities and business associates should take to prepare for the Phase 2 Audits.

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