The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health law (“HITECH”) made a number of changes for HIPAA covered entities and business associates. One key change stems from Section 13411 of HITECH, which gives the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services authority to conduct “periodic audits to ensure that covered entities and business associates” comply with the privacy and security mandates under HIPAA. Susan McAndrew, the Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy at the Office of Civil Rights ("OCR"), has been speaking out about the nature, scope and timing of these audits, which are expected to begin in February 2012. A summary of reports about the audit program follows below.  

Covered entities and business associates need to be prepared and take stock of their HIPAA compliance. One hundred percent compliance can be an elusive goal, particularly in a short time frame. So, perhaps a more efficient way to prepare for the coming wave of audits it to look, at a minimum, for the low hanging fruit, such as: (i) having clear policies and procedures on topics such as access management, breach notification, discipline, passwords, managing portable data storage devices, distributing notices of privacy practices, and similar items, (ii) conducting and documenting training of workforce members, and (iii) ensuring appropriate agreements are in place with business associates and subcontractors.   

According to statements from Ms. McAndrew about the planned audits, as reported in Employer’s Guide to HIPAA Privacy Requirements, a Thomson Publication, and elsewhere:

  • The 150 planned audits will likely commence in February 2012, and be completed by the end of 2012.
  • Covered entities will be the prime focus of this initial audit effort, however, the agency expects to also audit business associates.
  • The decision of what entities to audit will not be based on specific incidents, but on an objective process aimed to learn what are the compliance challenges for the entire industry. 
  • OCR decided to take a traditional approach to auditing – that is, on-site audits.
  • The audits are not part of the agency’s enforcement function, but certainly could lead to enforcement based on the audit findings.
  • Audits likely will incorporate recommendations of HHS’ Office of Inspector General
  • OCR will (i) provide advance notice of the audit; (ii) seek documentation well in advance of coming on-site, and (iii) provide an opportunity for the covered entity or business associate to comment on audit findings.
  • While audit findings will be made public, the agency likely will aggregate the audit findings before making them public.

On-site visits, to be performed by KPMG LLP, the contractor selected to design and perform the audits, will involve, among other things:

  • interviewing leadership, particuluarly those charged with privacy compliance,
  • examining physical features and operations,
  • assessing consistency of process to policy, and
  • observation of compliance with regulatory requirements.

KPMG will submit a report of its audit findings to OCR. Among other things, the report will include for each finding:

  • Condition: the defect or noncompliant status observed, and evidence of each
  • Criteria: a clear demonstration that each negative finding is a potential violation of the Privacy or Security Rules, with citation
  • Cause: the reason that the condition exists, along with identification of supporting documentation used
  • Effect: the risk or noncompliant status that results from the finding
  • Recommendations for addressing each finding
  • Entity corrective actions taken, if any


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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.