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Healthcare workers can face lengthy jail terms and heavy fines for improperly accessing patient health information. This week, a nurse has been charged with fraud and identity theft and the trial of a respiratory therapist has commenced in Toledo. If found guilty, both could spend time behind bars.
Virginia Nurse Charged with Bank Fraud and Identity Theft
A nurse formerly employed at Commonwealth Primary Care in Richmond, VA., has been charged with bank fraud and identity theft and is expected to plead guilty to the charges at a plea agreement hearing scheduled for Friday morning.
Capri Williams worked for at the West End branch of Commonwealth Primary Care for almost a year. During that time, she is believed to have accessed and copied the protected health information of hundreds of patients. Williams is alleged to have used patient information to fraudulently open bank and credit accounts in patients’ names. Williams has also been accused of making a fraudulent transfer of over $4,000 from one of the patients’ credit cards.
According to WTVR, Commonwealth Primary Care received a number of complaints from patients who believed their PHI had been compromised and law enforcement was called in to investigate. That investigation led to Williams.
If found guilty, Williams could face a minimum of two years in jail for the offenses and may be ordered to pay a fine of tens of thousands of dollars.
Former ProMedica Employee in Court on HIPAA Charges
The trial of Jamie Knapp, a former employee of the ProMedica Bay Park Community Hospital in Oregon, OH., commenced earlier this week. Knapp was employed as a respiratory therapist at the hospital and is alleged to have improperly accessed the medical records of 596 patients between May 10, 2013., and March 25, 2014.
Law enforcement was called in to investigate the breach; however, the four-week investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to bring charges against her. Law enforcement had a theory about why the records were accessed, although they were not able to file charges at the time.
Knapp, 25, of Adrian, claimed that she had permission from her supervisor to access the files, even though she was not treating the patients.
An investigation into the improper access continued and federal charges were filed against Knapp for breaches of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The trial started on Tuesday this week at the U.S. District Court in Toledo.
The improper accessing of patient health information by healthcare employees is relatively common, but it can be difficult to prevent. Healthcare organizations must be aware of the risk and should ensure that all employees granted access to patient health records are made aware of HIPAA Rules covering patient privacy. Employees should also be advised of the potential consequences for improperly accessing patient health records.
Healthcare organizations should also maintain logs of PHI access and implement policies and procedures to ensure that those logs are regularly checked to ensure privacy breaches are identified rapidly.