92 million people use Facebook every day, and almost 4 million users report getting medical information from their friends’ posts. It’s not just your typical user who has this problem though. Health organizations’ websites are sending medical information to Facebook is becoming more and more common.
These are the sites where patients tend to go for information about the hospital and its services. This information includes cases, procedures, treatments, and other similar things.
Hospitals have been actively using the platform for marketing purposes for years now. If you’re able to get in touch with someone who has a Facebook account and can see all of the posts that you’ve made, then there’s a good chance that they know about this little secret.
A lot of people use hospitals for their healthcare needs. However, it’s also a fact that there are some sneaky ways hospitals use their websites to gather information on patients who come there.
Thankfully, sharing protected health information on social media platforms, especially on Facebook is a clear violation of HIPAA. But what is it and what sanctions does it impose?
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a United States federal law that establishes minimum standards for the privacy, security, and transmission of individually identifiable health information by electronic means. It’s been in place since 1996, and it’s been amended a few times since then.
HIPAA applies to most healthcare providers in the United States, as well as some private health insurance companies and other organizations that transmit or receive protected health information (PHI) electronically. It does not apply to employee benefit plans that are not part of a more extensive network of providers or to the public sector (e.g., state or local governments).
It also provides patients with more control over how their personal health information is used and shared. These protections apply to all forms of communication, including in person, by phone, fax or email, or through the mail.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule regulates the use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI) by covered entities following the standards outlined in the rule. The rule applies to all entities that process PHI on behalf of another entity or organization.
Covered entities include healthcare clearinghouses and health plans; however, not all organizations are required to comply with the Privacy Rule because they have been granted an exemption from certain requirements.
HIPPA establishes several rights for patients and others who receive treatment, payment, or payment assistance for any service provided by a covered entity. These rights include:
- Right to inspect and copy your health records;
- Right to request amendments to your care records;
- Right to challenge decisions made about you based on your health records
Organizations that break any of these rules are subjected to HIPAA violation fines that could cost millions of dollars depending on the gravity of the crime.
Protected Health Information
What is “protected health information”? Protected health information or PHI is a term used to refer to information a healthcare provider creates, receives, or communicates about an individual that associates that person with one or more health conditions.
This type of information relates to a patient’s past, present, or future physical or mental health status, condition, incident, or treatment history. It may include such things as the individual’s payment card number or Social Security number, or medical management.
Healthcare providers are required to keep copies of all original medical records. All records, except for discharged summaries, are considered protected health information and must be kept separate from other non-protected health information.
You may not use or disclose the PHI (Protected Health Information) for any purpose other than treatment, payment or health insurance claims documentation. Protecting the privacy of your client’s health information is essential to long-term patient care.
Hospital’s Compliance with HIPAA
Healthcare organizations must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Standards. The Act was enacted with the intent of protecting patient health records from unauthorized disclosure or inappropriate use. Since then, HIPAA standards have evolved and are now used as a model for other healthcare organizations to follow.
The following are some tips on how to ensure compliance with HIPAA standards:
- Ensure that all employees have been educated about patient privacy and information security responsibilities.
- Ensure that a comprehensive security policy is in place that covers all aspects of patient information protection, including policies on employee access to patient data, e-mail messages, internet use by employees and contractors, encryption techniques, etc.
- Review your risk assessment report every year to determine whether there has been any change in your business operations that may affect the confidentiality or integrity of your patient’s information.
- Review all policies related to e-mail communications with patients daily to ensure they are current and reflect current practices and procedures.
The law also requires that all healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses create safeguards to protect the privacy of their patient’s medical records and other personal health information.
A recent study found that approximately 33% of hospital websites send patient information to Facebook without consent, in violation of HIPAA privacy rules. These privacy violations can result in civil penalties of up to $1.5 million. The tracking code on hospital websites collects protected health information and sends it to Facebook, where it can be accessed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
HIPAA on Facebook and other Social Media Platform
It’s worrying to learn that many U.S. hospital websites are leaking personal patient information to Facebook. The information is being revealed through a Meta Pixel tracker, which collects data without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
Experts say that this type of data leak is illegal and can result in HIPAA violations and fines. People need to be aware of this, especially since so many of us are now using social media platforms like Facebook.
Hospitals have been using social media as a way to promote their services and reach out to new patients. However, social media platforms are not only being used as a marketing tool but are also used for storing medical information. A study found that some hospitals were sending patient medical records to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Hospitals are using a Facebook tracking widget that sends personal patient information to the social media site, without the patients’ consent. This is a clear HIPAA violation. To date, two lawsuits have been filed against Facebook for this very same issue.
Health organizations are sending sensitive patient information to Facebook, and as a result, many are being fined for violating HIPAA regulations. A study recently published in the journal JAMA Network Open found that around 33% of hospital websites send personal information to Facebook without the patient’s knowledge.
HIPAA Violation Fines
Did you know that many U.S. hospital websites are sending personal patient information to Facebook without consent?
It’s come to light that many hospital websites are not adequately password-protected information being sent to Facebook. As a result, confidential patient data is being uploaded to the social media platform without the patient’s knowledge or consent. This includes everything from medical diagnoses and treatments to social security numbers and addresses.
A recent study found that hospital websites are sending patients’ medical information to Facebook without consent, which could violate HIPAA. The study found that MetaPixel, a Facebook tracking widget, is used on hospital websites and gathers patients’ data.
So far, the HIPAA violation fines that have been levied against hospitals for violating HIPAA regulations total millions of dollars. And this is only the beginning. As more and more people become aware of this issue, the penalties are only going to get harsher. If you’re a hospital administrator, now is the time to ensure that your website complies with HIPAA regulations.
HIPAA requires hospitals to get written consent from patients before sharing their personal information with any third party. But it seems like many hospitals are not following this rule because personal information is being sent to Facebook without patients’ consent all the time.
And when hospitals violate HIPAA due to willful neglect, they can face some pretty hefty fines. The maximum penalty is $1.5 million, but penalties typically range from $100 to $1.5 million. So this is something you want to keep in mind if you’re ever treated in a hospital.
This is a serious issue, and hospitals need to be aware of the risks involved in sharing patients’ medical information without consent.
How to Avoid Getting Fined
HIPAA is a very complicated and detailed law, so here are some tips to help you avoid violating HIPAA:
- Don’t disclose any health information that you shouldn’t be telling. This includes information about the patient’s diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis.
- Don’t share anything that isn’t needed for treatment. This includes things like insurance information, financial information, immigration status, and Social Security numbers.
- If you receive a request for PHI from someone other than the patient/client, make sure that it has been signed by them before sending it to anyone else.
- Always use safe practices when handling PHI and make sure that your staff knows where to find these practices in their training materials.
- Use a secure site. If you are going to store personal information, make sure that they are encrypted before they are sent over the internet. It is also best practice to encrypt this data when transferring it from one location to another so that no one can see what is being sent and received over the network or even see conversations between employees who might be sharing passwords for these accounts.
As technology advances, so too does the risk for hospital websites to accidentally send Protected Health Information (PHI) to Facebook and other social media platforms. This can be a HIPAA violation and can lead to large fines for the hospital. Hospitals need to have tight HIPAA compliance protocols in place to avoid such mishaps.