How to Unlock Electronic Medical Records

Electronic Medical Records can make or break a case! Do you want to learn how to unlock an Electronic Medical Record Audit Trail? Check out this complimentary MCLE (1 hour) credit seminar via Zoom, as Enigma Forensics CEO, Lee Neubecker offers keys to unlock the mysteries of the EMR audit trail. Read through this blog to register for this complimentary event.

Please join Enigma Forensics as our CEO, Lee Neubecker, as he presents:

“Keys to Unlocking Electronic Medical Records EMR”

Tuesday, May 25,

noon-1:00 p.m. Via Zoom

This complimentary program is offered for 1 hour of MCLE Credit in Illinois.

Register here: https://osadil.eventsair.com/2021-the-keys-to-unlocking-electronic-medical-records/2021-thekeystounlockingelectronicmedrecords/Site/Register

Enigma Forensics is partnering with the following sponsors:
The Family Justice Resource Center

If you are facing a wrongful allegation, The Family Justice Resource Center can help. The process of overcoming a medically-based wrongful allegation is exceedingly difficult. They offer a place to turn for families facing allegations of abuse and neglect. By learning the keys to unlocking the Electronic Medical Records it will become easier to uncover the root cause of every allegation. #https://www.famjustice.org/

Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences

The Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences (CIFS) is the first non-profit organization in the United States to bring exclusive focus to improvement of the reliability and safety of criminal prosecutions through strengthening the forensic sciences. Its educational and service goals span legislation, all facets of the judicial system, and experiential education of tomorrow’s lawyers and scientists. Its innovative approach allows law students and both undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences to work collaboratively, expanding the knowledge and competency of students across that broad spectrum. #https://cifsjustice.org/about-cifs/

Illinois Innocence Project

The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) is dedicated to freeing innocent men and women imprisoned in Illinois for crimes they did not commit. They advocate on behalf of this silenced population by researching and investigating claims of innocence and providing legal representation and other assistance to prove credible claims of actual innocence. #https://www.uis.edu/illinoisinnocenceproject/about/

Illinois Public Defender Association

The Illinois Public Defender Association was incorporated in 1969 as a non-profit 501 [c][6] an educational organization for Public Defenders. The goals of education, interchange of ideas, and camaraderie are reflected by semi-annual seminars serving Public Defenders and court-appointed counsel in all 102 counties. #https://www2.illinois.gov/osad/PublicDefenderInformation/Pages/PDAssociation.aspx

Enigma Forensics

Lee Neubecker is CEO and Founder of Enigma Forensics. We are a computer forensic company that focuses on Electronic Medical Records and Data Recovery. We are pleased to offer this complimentary MCLE credited event.

To learn more about the keys to unlocking Electronic Medical Records EMR

How to Compel Discovery of Electronic Medical Records

EMR Audit Trails as produced by Healthcare Providers during medical malpractice discovery frequently filter out important history of the patient’s medical record. Learn how to compel discovery of the patient’s complete EMR history.

Are you attempting to compel the production of a patient’s electronic medical chart and the complete electronic medical record audit trail?

Medical malpractice litigation today routinely requires obtaining the complete electronic medical record audit trail. Compelling the entire patient’s EMR Audit Trail Discovery is vital to the case. Hospitals, clinics, dentists, and other health providers are required to document patient interactions in electronic HIPAA compliant Healthcare Information Systems (HIS). Electronic Medical Records (EMR) also referred to as Electronic Health Records (EHR) are used almost interchangeably. Requesting and receiving the complete EMR for a harmed party can be a daunting process, especially when health care providers produce voluminous audit trail reports in paper form that lack any clear documentation of exactly what changes were made to the EMR.

HIPAA compliant HIS software providers are required to log all access, review, editing, and deletion of records. Such logs must include a record of the user making the change, the source computer that made the change, the date and time of the records actual creation (this can be different than the date and time stamp that appears on the printed patient chart or progress notes), and all versions of the chart as it existed at various points in time. While the HIS software providers maintain HIPAA compliance, ensuring that deleted or revised patient records remain in the HIS record, those earlier revision instances or deleted (marked inactive) records are routinely left off the patient’s printed EMR. By design, the EMR audit trail reports lack the specific modifications being made and by whom. It is often necessary to formulate your discovery request in a specific way to ensure that all audit trail logs from all of the various HIS-connected systems are produced in such a way that provides a clear understanding of health care events that took place.

The following graphic depicts the typical process involved with retaining a computer forensics expert skilled in deciphering EMR to assist with compelling discovery of the complete patient electronic medical records, including the revision history.

1. Request Patient’s Complete Electronic Medical Records (EMR)

It is important that your discovery request includes important relevant details and enough specificity to ensure you receive a comprehensive production of available information without having unnecessary filters applied. We have seen routine usage of filters such as named users, narrow start and ending dates, departments and other available filters that result in receiving an incomplete production of the patient’s EMR. If you would like a sample electronic medical record discovery request list of items, please call us and we would be happy to share our sample request with you. Engaging our firm early on in the process can help speed things along.

2. Review Produced EMR Records

Reviewing the timeline of events and the complaint to develop an understanding of the critical moments when decisions were made or not made leading to harm to the patient is usually the starting point for engaging a computer forensics expert to assist you. Following the review of the case documents, converting the EMR produced to a more usable format is important before analysis begins. Ensuring that the EMR has been OCR’s, adding page labels to the document if missing saves time downstream and allows for surgical review of voluminous EMR to isolate records of care by date, time, health care provider name, medication, or other activity. Summarizing data and performing focused reviews around key dates and times can provide important insights.

3. Identify examples of withheld records or apparent manipulation

During the review process, it is helpful to identify examples of abnormalities or notations that indicate other data referenced is not contained in the production of the patient’s EMR. Reviewing the complete EMR records produced, not just the critical dates and times, can often help establish normal patterns of EMR and can be used in contrast to critical dates and times where EMR appears to be missing from the record. Skilled and experienced EMR data forensics experts often find indicators of manipulation that may not be readily apparent to someone who is not an EMR data forensics expert. Plaintiff’s medical malpractice counsel should send a written or emailed request to the health care provider to produce apparently missing records. This documentation of asking for the missing data will be helpful later when a motion to compel is filed with the court. Judges always like it when litigants attempt to work things out first amongst themselves before seeking judicial intervention. It is not uncommon that our firm is retained at this stage when the non-expert has reviewed the EMR produced and suspects something is hinky. Having your EMR data forensic expert assist with drafting the follow-on request for missing EMR can help lay the foundation for a later affidavit in support of a motion to compel.

4. Review Supplemental Production of Records if Received

In many cases, healthcare providers will partially respond to a supplemental request for EMR. The production oftentimes still lacks the clear ability to correlate the revision history of the patient’s chart and medical record. The review of all of the EMR produced to date is important in beginning to build the argument to be included in the future EMR expert witness affidavit in support of an onsite inspection of the HIS to obtain the patient’s complete EMR including the revision history.

5. Affidavit in Support of Motion to Compel Onsite Direct Inspection

The EMR data forensics expert must lay the foundation documenting their credentials, what they reviewed, significant findings, notes of any deficiencies in the production, and establishing that additional information not produced by the health care provider may be available from performing an onsite inspection. Direct engagement with the HIS can often reveal additional details such as the actual time or original entry of a notation as well as the life cycle of modification over time showing which device was used to access or modify the notation, what user accessed/modified the record, and the current status of records entered into the EMR. Inactive or deleted notations may be revealed on some HIS systems by toggling the view settings to show inactive records. The sworn statement by the EMR data forensics expert is an important tool in winning your motion to compel and often is filed with the motion, or submitted shortly after and before the hearing on the motion. In some cases, sharing the EMR data forensics expert’s curriculum vitae with the health care provider and the signed affidavit in support of the motion to compel onsite recorded inspection of the patient’s EMR may result in an agreement to allow inspection without the court’s order or an acceptable settlement offer. It never hurts to try.

6. File Motion to Compel Onsite Direct Inspection of the EMR System

Usually, to obtain direct onsite inspection of the healthcare provider’s HIS is a request likely to encounter objections and resistance. Filing a motion to compel and providing a supporting EMR expert witness affidavit can help overcome objections. A federal U.S. District Court ordered a hospital to provide such direct access to a patient plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. (Borum v. Smith, W.D. Ky. No. 4:17-cv-17, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109249 (July 14, 2017)). The court’s decision and arguments can be viewed at this link. Onsite inspections can also be performed using remote control/viewing software such as WebEx, Zoom, TeamViewer, and others if the court allows and so orders. Typically, healthcare provider staff or HIS software consultants with administrative access to the HIS will perform the actions directed by the plaintiff’s EMR consultant and allow for recording screenshots of the patient’s EMR as viewed within the software.

7. Court Testimony in Support of Motion to Compel Onsite Direct Inspection

Having your EMR expert present in the hearing on your motion to compel usually takes place in person or via a remote video conferencing tool such as Zoom. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 began to escalate in 2020, courts have become more comfortable with allowing remote experts to appear via electronic video conferencing, making it easier to retain the most knowledgeable EMR computer forensics expert witness without concerns over the geographic location of your expert witness. Allowing the judge to ask questions of your EMR expert witness directly and assist you with responding to any raised objections has been proven to be highly effective in winning the motion to compel onsite inspection of the plaintiff’s EMR.

8. Onsite Inspection

Once the court has granted the motion to compel an onsite inspection, it is important to ensure that any in-person meeting isn’t a waste of everyone’s time. Problems that can arise include the health care provider producing someone to operate the computer terminal who is not knowledgeable about how to use the HIS or that lacks full administrative access to the complete backend databases containing detailed historical information including revision history of the EMR. In some cases, such as Cerner and Epic, some screens can be viewed in the software that will show progress notes and the revision histories including the user name modifying or entering the record and the times the record was updated by the user. In other systems, it may be necessary to access the back-end database system with administrative credentials to perform Structured Query Language (SQL) queries to identify the relevant record history. Having an EMR expert that has experience writing SQL database queries is important when the HIS doesn’t offer a built-in report or display view that can show the complete historical record of events.

9. Review Records Captured Onsite

Following the onsite inspection, it is often necessary to review in more detail the screenshots and video footage documenting the EMR in the HIS. Reports generated during the onsite may need to be compared against earlier productions of EMR to help document any records that were withheld. Where it is provable that the healthcare provider withheld patient EMR, it may be possible to petition the court to order reimbursement of expert witness fees associated with the consulting engagement.

10. Write Final Report

Many times, a final report is not necessary. Typically, once it is established that records were withheld, or it is believed to be known that this may be the case, it is more often than not that a settlement offer is made to the plaintiff when obfuscation or manipulation of the patient’s EMR took place. If no acceptable settlement is reached, writing a final report in the form of a sworn affidavit to detail the delays and extra costs associated with discovery is important for petitioning the court to award expert fees. Other times, the data obtained from the onsite inspection can be presented without a report or sworn affidavit. Photos and videos can sometimes avoid the need to generate a final report.

11. Expert Witness Deposed

Should an acceptable settlement offer not have been reached, the EMR expert witness will be deposed. This typically is preceded by a request for the disclosed expert witness’s communications with counsel and any work product or notes. Working with an EMR expert witness that has been deposed numerous times and has achieved successful outcomes following the given deposition can make or break your case. If the defense counsel can undermine the credibility of your expert, the admissibility of any of the opinions sworn to by your expert may be excluded. If your EMR expert witness is successful at establishing that records were held back or manipulated and provides a reliable deposition in support of those opinions, your case matter is likely to receive a reasonable settlement offer proportionate to the offenses and harm caused to your client.

12. Trial Testimony

It is rare that you will need your EMR Expert Witness to testify at trial regarding manipulation or withholding of evidence. If the facts exist and have been produced, they often speak for themselves. Many healthcare organizations face frequent malpractice litigation. If it is established in the public record that a healthcare organization permanently deleted a patient’s EMR, that organization could lose Medicare/Medicaid funding for not maintaining HIPAA compliance, a problem that could far exceed paying out a settlement to a single aggrieved party.

13. Case Settles

Medical malpractice cases often settle when it has been established that the records have been altered to distort the true record of patient care. Having news reports published detailing how a healthcare organization manipulated historical patient EMR to mask a mistake resulting in the harm of the patient would only invite more litigation by other harmed patients. In the interest of protecting their organization from further litigation and more intrusive discovery, healthcare organizations need to maintain their profitability and minimize costs paid out for ongoing litigation.

Summary

When you are getting stonewalled by a healthcare organization and feel that you are receiving cryptic EMR audit trails, or a production that is missing data that should exist, having an experience EMR computer forensics expert witness and consultant on your side can help you achieve a better outcome for your client. If you would like to discuss a case matter with us, we are happy to provide a complimentary consultation. Call us today at 312-668-0333.

Filters Used to Withhold the Complete Electronic Medical Records

The universal implementation of electronic medical records (EMRs) has become the single most important piece of evidence used in medical malpractice litigation. In response to an EMR Discovery request, healthcare providers use various filters to create useless or hard to read data. Hire an expert to help you weed through the audit trail and to present Discovery requests relevant to the case.

Healthcare providers use filters to withhold electronic medical data when complying with a court order and producing EMR audit trails. During the discovery period, EMR audit trails are commonly used as the single most important piece of evidence in medical malpractice litigation. Knowing evidence is in the details, has led to a chess game of filters proving “Not all electronic medical records (EMRs) productions are created equal!” Figuring out how electronic medical records (EMRs) are filtered is a game changer!

Follow the filters!

When counsel requests a patient’s electronic medical records (EMRs) to review for evidence, the production is often delivered in non-electronic limited formats, such as; scan documents, PDF, or image files. Filters provide limited format productions of (EMRs) therefore it becomes extremely difficult to read and find evidence. Are hospitals and healthcare facilities doing this on purpose? Are they filtering their production to include irrelevant information with very little details about the event in question? They are not making it easy that’s for sure. In truth, they are complying with the court order and producing files that include the electronic health records of the plaintiff. They’re just not providing data information in its completeness. Using filters to produce audit trails is fairly common, but for the injured party and representing counsel these tactics are extremely excruciating. Requesting electronic medical records (EMR’s) is now a challenging game of filtering chess!

Forensic Experts know how to request data essential to your case.

It is quite common that hospitals and healthcare facilities use a variety of filters that will result in an incomplete production. When forensic experts study the production headers they uncover filters that were used to produce an incomplete EMR audit trail. Experts know how to ask for relevant data and dig deeper to find evidence.

Filters, Filters, and More Filters!

  1. Date filters that are applied could exclude alteration of records after the event took place. We suggest the best practice is to use the earliest known date prior to the medical event as a starting point and place the end date the same as the current date of the request. Pushing the end date to reflect the current date will show who looked at the record post-event.
  2. Department filters will only return records that are from one particular department, such as radiology or another department.
  3. Employee filters include specific employees of the healthcare facility. If an EMR record only shows entries related to a physician’s user IDs this can be problematic. It’s important to know all of the names and user IDs of all healthcare providers that visited the patient.
  4. Workstation filters are specific to desktops and/or workstations and could be the cause of incomplete production.
  5. Location filters are used by healthcare providers to limit the full scope of production. It is not uncommon for physicians to access important medical records remotely. This could cause manipulation of data by remote access and filter out data after the event in question.

Enigma Forensics has years of experience developing requests for electronic medical records (EMRs). Our experts know how to ask the right question to retrieve the necessary data to be used as evidence. Save yourself time and expense and hire an expert! Our experts are CISSP certified (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) that provide testimony as a professional witness in a court of law.

Please call Enigma Forensics at 312-669-0333 for a complimentary consultation.

How important are Electronic Medical Records (EMR)?

Have you or someone you know been involved in medical injury or accident? Do you want to win your case? Or…If you’re an attorney and have questions about a case involving medical malpractice, read this blog and contact Enigma Forensics for the “W”.

Were you or a loved one involved in a medical accident or injury? Are you an attorney who is representing an injured client?

If the answer is yes, take immediate action and file a Discovery request or subpoena to access all of your Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Why is this important? In order to prove injury or malpractice and win your case it’s imperative to discover what took place and the actions that caused an event. Your electronic medical records or EMR audit trail will document what transpired. EMR audit trails will include prescriptions, tests, treatments, transfers, operation notes, nurse practitioners and doctors notes and a ton more. Electronic Health Records (EHR) are rich with data information describing the care that was provided and decisions that were made good or bad. Some medical record systems such as Epic have sticky notes that are traditionally not part of the formal patient permanent electronic record. Those sticky notes are required to be stored by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), but are not part of the discharge report showing the patient electronic medical record history. The data does exist and working with a qualified medical record forensic expert can help you to gain a more complete record of the patient encounter with the health care provider.

What else does Electronic Medical Records (EMR) include?

Electronic Medical Records and the patient medical record audit trail include the original record and will note any modifications. It will also preserve dates, times, who accessed the record and whether the record was printed, viewed, deleted or otherwise modified. Many of the systems today, such as; Epic, Cerner, Meditech, All Scripts and others have reports that can be downloaded to reveal vital information about who has authorization to access and audit electronic health records.

Medical dictations are another vital piece to the puzzle. Dictation files are sometimes sent to third party transcription service providers as raw audio files called WAV files. After the WAV files are received they are typically transcribed to text files and fed back into the electronic health record software system. When modification of the patient medical record occurs after an injury or malpractice took place, comparing the transcription WAV files to the produced chart may help reveal alteration to the patient medical records.

Patient Electronic Medical Charts are often Incomplete. You could lose your case!

When electronic medical record discovery requests are made by plaintiffs to healthcare providers, it is common that the production lacks the complete patient medical record history. Healthcare providers facing litigation commonly provide a minimal amount of data in an often useless format. The form of production is often scanned copies of previously printed our documents or charts. Codewords for health care providers, departments and procedures often make interpretation even more challenging. Having an experience EMR computer forensics expert can help provide a more accurate interpretation of the complete Electronic Health Record (EHR) for the harmed patient.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA is a federal law which requires your medical records to be retained for six years at a federal level. However, most states also have their own medical retention laws which can be more stringent than HIPAA stipulates. Check out this government website to learn about how different states interpret this governance. https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/index.html

How important are faxes? This could win your case!

In some cases, Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are faxed to outside providers either to or from your primary physician. Software vendors such as Forward Advantage provide automated faxing capabilities integrating with the existing health care information management systems and patient medical records. It’s vital you request all communication between facilities to help prove or disprove what and when medical knowledge was presented to the provider to make an informative decision relatable to an event.

Let’s say you have already requested an EMR audit trail for a patient. Did you know that the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) audit trail you received contains cryptic codes that you will not be able to comprehend. It’s extremely helpful to request all of the underlying data dictionaries that will provide the definition of the codes used referring to the friendly name, including, the healthcare provider’s name, department, computer used to access the EMR, procedures, treatments, tests ordered, drugs prescribed and lab results.

Did you know that medical data is required to be retained for six years?

Do you want to to win your case! You need Enigma Forensics experts on your team! Hire a professional forensic expert to assist in writing a Discovery request to obtain, preserve and analyze ALL of the electronic medical records and to help you obtain the complete EMR audit trail. We can help uncover the truth of what took place and help tell the court the story about what happened to you or your client.

Call Enigma Forensics at 312-668-0333 to schedule a complimentary phone call to discovery how we can assist.

More about Electronic Medical Records

Complete list of eDiscovery Questions For Electronic Medical Records

Enigma Forensics are experts in collecting and understanding electronic medical records or the EMR audit trail. Check out this blog to view our list of EMR Discovery Questions.

Electronic Medical Records (EMR) can be tricky! In most cases, during eDiscovery, you get what you ask for and only what you ask for! Every Discovery request involving a healthcare provider has unique aspects that need to be considered.

Enigma Forensics is an established Computer Forensic Expert Witness firm that has been involved in many medical malpractice cases and specializes in interpreting electronic medical records (EMR) audit trail or audit logs. Our staff has extensive experience with numerous EMR applications and can assist you with navigating through the challenges of EMR Audit Trails and/or Audit Logs. Electronic Medical Record a.k.a., EMR audit trail or log is the answer to who knew what when, in essence, it tells the story about what took place during the treatment of that patient.

The following is a list of important questions to file for the demand for eDiscovery for Electronic Medical Records, in a medical malpractice case.

  1. Provide the name of all medical software applications utilized to store [Patient Name]’s Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
  2. For each medical software application that contains [Patient Name]’s EMR, please provide the specific version of the software as well as the name of the company that produces the software during the relevant time period beginning on [beginning date] through the present date.
  3. For each medical software application that contains [Patient Name]’s EMR, please indicate if any of the specified software applications were migrated off to a new platform and what the current status is of [Patient Name]’s EMR on the original system.
  4. For each medical software application that contains [Patient Name]’s EMR, please provide the application administrators that have full access to the stored data and audit trails.
  5. For each medical software application that contains [Patient Name]’s EMR, please provide all user and administrator manuals for each of the medical software applications.
  6. For each application that contains [Health Care Provider Name]’s EMR, please provide the current retention settings for the audit trail for all patient’s EMR. Are the privacy log retention settings sent to a secondary audit log (e.g., Fair Warning)? Is the secondary audit log retention configurable within the systems and/or applications?
  7. For each application that contains [Health Care Provider Name]’s EMR, please provide the earliest date that [Patient Name]’s EMR appears in the application’s audit trail.
  8. Please provide the complete EMR audit trail for [Patient Name] detailing any health care provider’s access, review, modification, printing, faxing, or deletion activities in a comma-delimited format with any and all corresponding native files that may relate to the Electronic Medical Record for [Patient Name] as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act § 164.312(a)(1).  Such an audit trail should include the original values and new values for any alteration of the EMR and shall indicate the user making the change and the date and time of the change.
  9. Please provide the data dictionary for each software application containing  [Patient Name]’s EMR.  Such dictionary shall include the username key that maps the real names of individuals to their unique user login account IDs for each medical software application containing any EMR for [Patient Name] as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act § 164.312(a)(2)(i). Additionally, any lab test, codes, or other short-form identifiers included in  [Patient Name]’s EMR Chart or EMR audit trail should be provided as part of the data dictionary production.
  10. Please provide any and all original voice transcription recordings that were made by [Health Care Provider Name], or any other staff that related to [Patient Name].
  11. Please provide any other native electronic files or emails that relate to  [Patient Name] in the native format with an index containing the original unmodified metadata for each of the native files or emails produced.
  12. Please provide any DICOM files that were captured as part of [Patient Name]’s treatment by [Health Care Provider].
  13. Please provide electronic records of any outbound faxes and/or other methods of communication that were utilized by [Health Care Provider Name] to [EMR Recipient], in its native form with a corresponding comma file listing containing all available metadata in a delimited format with the corresponding file path to the native file produced for each record.
  14. Please provide the name and title of the person most knowledgeable for the [Health Care Provider Name]’s software/auditing and compliance system. 
  15. What customizations and settings were active at the time when the plaintiff was admitted into the hospital? What privacy-related logging is in place for each such system and/or application? Are privacy log retention settings in place for each such system and/or audit log?

Understanding EMR Audit Trails

Understanding EMR Audit Trails is important to any company dealing with (PHI). They must have all the necessary security measures in place and follow them to ensure HIPAA Compliance.

Understanding EMR Audit Trails is essential to a patient’s medical history In medical malpractice litigation. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) maintain an audit trail including all of the metadata. This EMR audit trail is a piece of highly relevant evidence as to who accessed what in the record, what entries were made and/or changed, by whom and when. Computer Forensic experts are key to effective electronic discovery during medical malpractice litigation.

How do hospitals record, protect, and store data? HIPAA sets the guidelines for the most highly sought after information by the world’s best technology hackers. Medical records are worth 4 times more than credit card information. Managing Personal Healthcare Information (PHI) places Healthcare facilities at risk of cyber attack 24/7, 365 days a year.

Check out this video with Enigma Forensics, President & CEO, Lee Neubecker, and John Blair, a noted Healthcare Industry Cyber Security Expert where they discuss the importance of protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Lee Neubecker and John Blair

Understanding EMR Audit Trails video transcript follows:

This is the third of the last video in the three-part series on Health Care Industry Cyber Threats:
Watch Part 1, Watch Part 2

Lee Neubecker: Hi, I have John Blair, a cyber security expert in the field of healthcare, and John is also involved with understanding patient medical, electronic medical record (EMR) audit trails, so I asked him to come on the show and talk a little bit about that with me. John, thanks for coming back on the show.

John Blair: Thanks, Lee. Glad to be back.

LN: So John, can you tell everyone a little bit about what HIPAA requires of healthcare organizations as it relates to tracking data of caregiving and the patients?

JB: Sure. Most of this is obviously directed at hospitals, but HIPAA also has things called business associates, and any interaction from any entity with, or any user with, PHI is going to be subject to these audit logging. Hospitals use systems called EMRs, so generally those, the audit trails are built into the EMRs by default, but obviously entities can turn those off if they so choose or configure them differently. HIPAA requires that you pretty much log any interaction, whether it’s read-only, view-only, edit, whatever that interaction might be. Identify the user, identify the time, what was done to the record, and that has to be maintained for several years. So it doesn’t matter what a user does with the record. Even if they just view it, that counts as a valid interaction and has to be logged and maintained.

LN: In fact, all of these hospital software systems out there have to be HIPAA compliant, or else the hospitals wouldn’t be able to use the software packages. Isn’t that true?

JB: Right, right. There’s a lot of federal regulations regarding that, that the standards that these systems have to meet in order to get refunds or rebates from the government.

LN: So Medicare funding, reimbursement, obviously is important.

JB: All of that stuff. And audit logs of user activity and interactions, or any interaction with PHI, is a critical component of that.

LN: You know, what I’ve seen is sometimes despite the software packages being EMR, audit trail compliant, that there’s the ability for the software that’s deployed to be altered so that the audit trails aren’t retained as long as required by law.

JB: Yeah, sometimes the storage of the audit logs, it can be overwhelming. So oftentimes they are archived offsite or inappropriate access is given to the audit log itself. And then it possibly can be changed, which ruins the integrity of the log, obviously, and that would be a very bad thing should something come up down the road and you needed that log.

LN: Yeah, and certainly, someone who has the master database administrator password to that back-end system, they could do whatever they wanted.

JB: Yup. But there’s supposed to be logs of that activity, as well, and reviews of those logs, but you’re absolutely right. If you’re an administrator, you can do a lot of damage.

LN: Yeah, I’ve assisted clients before involved in litigation, medical malpractice litigation, with just seeking the truth of what’s there in the records. Most of the time, they think many hospitals are compliant and do have those audit trail records.

JB: Absolutely.

LN: But, they don’t necessarily want to make that data readily available.

JB: No, they don’t. And it depends, it’s a case-by-case scenario, under the advice of counsel and things like that, but it’s very, very sensitive information, and obviously, it’s a public relations nightmare to have a breach of patient data, so they take those things very, very seriously.

LN: Absolutely. So can you tell everyone what PHI stands for?

JB: It’s Protected Health Information, as defined by HHS, there are 18 very specific fields that comprise PHI. PHI is a subset of PII, which is Personally Identifiable Information, but with respect to healthcare, it’s primarily PHI that we’re worried about and those 18 identifiable fields.

LN: Why would hackers want to target health care records?

JB: It’s far more valuable now than several years ago, it was credit card information, basically for year after year. Now, the credit card companies and technology with respect to how quickly a card can be replaced and deactivated. And so, just more money in it to steal medical information. And there’s more flexibility, as well. You can go get drugs, you can do a variety of things, whereas, with the credit card, it’s just money.

LN: If people wanted to launch a targeted scam on individuals, certainly having records that would enable them to filter patients that have Alzheimer’s, might give them an unfair advantage at duping people out of their savings.

JB: Absolutely. Because generally if you get someone’s entire record, you’re getting everything about them: their Soc number, their address, phone numbers, relatives, I mean, all this information is now at your disposal. And loans can be taken out in their names, it’s just a disaster waiting to happen.

LN: So Electronic Medical Records, known as EMR, represent an important target that hackers seek, because of the value of that information, and the uniqueness.

JB: Yup. The price of those records, per record, now varies, but I believe it’s in the $150, $200 range per record if it’s a breach now, and laptops can hold hundreds of thousands of records. So it can be very, very expensive.

LN: But it seems that this is a problem, too, that it isn’t just localized to any one area, it’s universal.

JB: Yeah, it’s across the board. Anyone dealing with PHI has this problem.

LN: How does the cost of a patient medical record compare to a credit card record, compare to the black market?

JB: Yeah, for the last several years, medical records have gained in value every year, while financial records, credit card information have devalued. And it’s to the point now where medical information’s worth four times as much as financial information. And that’s only increasing.

LN: So does that mean that people that work in the healthcare sector in IT and security are going to get paid four times as much as the people of the financial sector?

JB: I wish.

LN: Well, thanks again for being on the show, this was a lot of good stuff. I appreciate this.

JB: Thanks, Lee, appreciate it.

Other related stories about EMR Audit Trails

Other resources to learn more about EMR Audit Trails.

https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html

EMR Audit Trails

An electronic medical record (EMR) audit trail is a log file required by HIPAA of all electronic medical record software systems. The EMR audit trail documents all points of access of a patient electronic medical record system including any actions to modify, view, print or amend the record by replacing or adding new data.

Electronic Medical Record (EMR) Audit Trails are key to effective electronic discovery during medical malpractice litigation. Renowned EMR Computer Forensics Expert, Lee Neubecker interviews Insurance Defense Attorney Bill McVisk who usually helps defend hospitals embroiled in medical malpractice litigation. McVisk discusses common areas of confusion during discovery of patient medical records. Neubecker relays some of his past experiences helping plaintiffs uncover important medical records that are often hidden from plaintiffs during discovery. Enigma Forensics has assisted counsel with conducting depositions relating to Electronic Health Records (EHR) and EMR. The two discuss how electronic medical record systems have often made the process of discovery more difficult and confusing to attorneys and litigants.

The transcript of the interview follows:

The transcript of the interview follows:

Lee Neubecker: Hi. I’m here today with Bill McVisk. He’s a patient medical records expert, a litigator. He works with hospitals that are dealing with EMR-related patient medical records and whatnot. I had him on my show today because I want to talk a little bit about electronic medical records. Bill, they said that electronic medical records were going to revolutionize everything and make everything so much better. What’s the reality of what’s happened since we’ve brought about medical records?

Bill McVisk: A lot of EMR has been great. I mean, there’s an ability of doctors to provide records to other people that they couldn’t have done before. There’s the ability, for instance, of a radiologist to look at a film that was taken, and he can be in San Diego, and the patient can be in New York, and it still works. The problems, though, there are some problems. I mean, the biggest problem I see is that anyone who’s ever gone to a doctor’s… the doctors are focused on their computers instead of focusing on the patient. What they’re doing is hitting all sorts of drop-down menus and stuff, and I think we’re losing something from the standpoint of presenting physicians and nurses in malpractice cases. It creates a situation where you don’t really get a sense of exactly what that nurse or doctor is thinking, and so the records just aren’t quite as helpful in medical malpractice cases as they used to be. On the upside, we can read them now, whereas in the past we had to worry about doctors’ handwriting.

Lee Neubecker: Yeah. I know from experience working as a EMR, a patient medical record expert, that discovery can often become challenging. When an attorney is preparing a witness for deposition related to patient medical records, what are some of the things that you look for and care about in that process?

Bill McVisk: Well, the first thing, quite frankly, is to make sure I have the entire record. I can’t tell you how often I’m getting records where I get part of the record, and for some reason, I don’t know if it’s stored on a different server or what, I’m not getting all of the record. I may get all the physician’s part of the record but not the nurse’s part of the record, and obviously, that’s essential. Other problems, like when I’m preparing a witness for a deposition, the big problem is that they’re not used to seeing these records printed out. I mean, in the past, they would look at the chart, it would be exactly the same as the chart they were looking at in the hospital. Now, they are looking at the chart on a computer screen when they’re in the hospital, but when you’re preparing them for a deposition, you’ve got a paper chart, and the paper chart prints out terribly. Every time there’s a slight change of any kind in the record from one minute to the next, the chart prints out the page again and again and again, so there’s all this stuff, and it’s just getting the nurses and the doctors to know where in the chart their entry is going to be makes it a little bit harder.

Lee Neubecker: Yeah. I have experience working with that, and I know that HIPAA requires that every instance of that medical record, pre-editing and post-editing, that that data be preserved and discoverable, but in reality, a lot of the software packages, they only have reports that run the last version, so to get into the true audit trail, you often have to get into the database backend to get access to that information.

Bill McVisk: Well, and I think audit trails are the other aspect of things that makes it a little bit harder in this situation. In the past, we basically, I could give the original medical record to the plaintiff’s attorney to inspect. If somebody had erased something or done something like that, it’d be pretty obvious. I would hopefully know about it before the plaintiff’s attorney would know about it. Then I’d deal with that. But, it may not be obvious now because people can go in, change records, and now, if an audit trail is suddenly showing me, “Oh, my god, somebody was in and did something “to the record,” and it’s two or three weeks after the treatment was over, or, say, two or three hours after a terrible incident occurred, that’s going to make it look concerning. So I think from our standpoint, it’s a matter of making sure healthcare providers are aware of how to do it in a way that isn’t going to look like you’re trying to fake or lie.

Lee Neubecker: And there’s a big difference between accessing a medical record, and editing it.

Bill McVisk: Right.

Lee Neubecker: That’s where sometimes attorneys on both sides become confused about the significance of what’s happening with the patient record.

Bill McVisk: Right. I mean, records get accessed all the time. Maybe it’s to prepare for a deposition. You have to access the record to look at it. Maybe it’s because there’s followup treatment and you need to access the record. That happens all the time, but sometimes, on these audit trails, it’s not always easy. Is this just an access, or is somebody going in and changing something?

Lee Neubecker: And there’s a whole other layer, too. I know from my experience working with many of the packages that the hospitals often use systems that have something known as sticky notes, where they can put comments about a patient. There’s a wide perception that those notes aren’t discoverable. Just because the software doesn’t have a report that will run it, doesn’t mean that if someone like me is coming in, and I get access to the backend database, those comments about the patient and whatnot become apparent. But unfortunately, it’s difficult to get at that data if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Bill McVisk: And that creates a real problem if you’re defending the hospital, because if I don’t know about these sticky notes in the beginning, first of all, I’m not going to be thinking, “Oh, my goodness.” Then, if you come and discover them, it obviously is going to be, “Oh. I was trying to hide those notes,” or, “The hospital was trying to hide those notes,” which is always the worst thing you can do as a defendant in litigation. And they’re clearly, if there’s something about a patient in those notes, it’s almost never privileged, it is discoverable, and it should be provided immediately.

Lee Neubecker: Also, you know, there’s a tendency I see for the hospitals to try to cover things up. Do you think that there’s some value in bringing in, when you’re defending a hospital, your own forensic expert to dig around and find out what’s really happening?

Bill McVisk: See, I don’t think the hospitals are intentionally trying to cover stuff up. I really don’t think that’s, I’ve almost never seen that happen. There may be, you know, one or two, but in most of these cases, I think the hospitals are trying to find out what the truth is. That being said, the hospital may not be aware that some of these things, because the risk management for the hospital might not be fully aware of all of the situations that are involved in electronic medical records, and yes, at that point, it may be a good idea for me just to have somebody like you go through those records, let me know. Before I produce them to the plaintiff, I would like to know what’s out there.

Lee Neubecker: It would probably be a lot more useful for you to get just a listing of the changes on the record so you’re not looking at the whole document, but maybe here’s a first instance, and then change one, change two, change three, so you can see before text, after text.

Bill McVisk: Sure.

Lee Neubecker: That’s the type of thing that, unfortunately, there’s not canned reports that are in the software that do that. I think that could be by design of the software makers because they don’t want to make it worse for their clients, the hospitals, but it’s certainly possible that it’s just something that was never asked for.

Bill McVisk: That’s quite possible, and I don’t know any of these software makers, but to me, it would be really helpful to know what those are. Of course, that does make it more discoverable, easily discovered by the plaintiff’s attorneys, but on the other hand, I as a defense attorney need to know about it, and if there’s a change that’s improper, I need to know about it right away.

Lee Neubecker: Yeah. What kind of problems can occur when different providers have different EMR systems?

Bill McVisk: Well, that can create problems of a number of ways. Sometimes, the software of one hospital doesn’t communicate with the software of another. There have been situations, for instance, where a physician enters an order for something to happen, and then because of the software problems, it doesn’t get to the provider who’s supposed to do it, and they don’t know that they’re supposed to do it. That creates serious problems for patient care. And similarly, it’s like, if a hospital is discharging a patient to a nursing home, and they want the nursing home to have a certain specific type of care regimen afterward, that can create problems if they don’t communicate well.

Lee Neubecker: Well, thanks a bunch, Bill, for being on the show. I appreciate it.

Bill McVisk: Lee, thanks so much.

Other Medical Related Posts:

Related Links on the Web:

Related Links on the Web:

Computer Forensics in Medical Malpractice

Importance of Computer Forensics in Medical Malpractice Litigation by revealing patient electronic medical records.

Computer Forensics Wins Litigation

Enigma Forensics CEO & President Lee Neubecker interviews James Meyer a personal injury attorney from Ialongo and Meyer. Computer Forensics uncovers answers to important questions such as; what orders may or may not have been entered as a result of that medical test. In this video, Lee and Jim share some of the changes that have ocurred that impact medical malpractice litigation. Tune in to find out how using computer forensics can make or break a case.

The transcript of the video interview follows:

Lee Neubecker: Hi this is Lee Neubecker, I’m here with Jim Meyer from Ialongo and Meyer, and we’re here today talking about patient medical records, specifically electronic medical records. Some of the changes that have happened that impact medical malpractice litigation. So Jim, can you tell me a little bit about EMR and how computer forensics plays a role in cases that you’re litigating, where you’re trying to get a result for your client?

Jim Meyer: Well EMR has changed everything, in regards to medical records. HIPAA is required that the electronic medical records, both be secure and private, that requirement provides that a lot of metadata is collected with every electronic medical record. That metadata itself is very important in… Capturing information about where, when, how and whom, made the medical record, can be crucial in any medical investigation.

Lee Neubecker: Look, can you tell me an example of what type of metadata you might be asking for, and why it would be relevant to the outcome of litigation?

Jim Meyer: Well… The metadata that is most interesting in most cases is, when certain events occurred in a medical record. When a test was ordered, when it was performed, when the results were placed in the patient’s medical record, when the physician saw those results, what orders may or may not have been entered as a result of that medical test. When medication is prescribed, when it’s administered, who administered the medication. Many of these details are now electronically captured, as opposed to being physically noted, as they were in old written medical records. It can make a… Big difference in trying to determine when events occurred in a case.

Lee Neubecker: I know one of the cases I was involved in, I discovered that many of the different default reports that are provided with these medical software packages, don’t necessarily show all available metadata. In fact, what we had to do on one of the cases, we had to work through discovery to try to get the scheme of the database. And then we discovered in once instance that there was something known as a sticky note, that the nurses and physicians could type little comments in, but there was a presumption that would never get printed because it’s not in any of the default reports. So what we actually had to do is find the table that had these notes, and then work to get the data dumped. And as soon as we found that, the case quickly settled, because obviously, the hospitals don’t want everyone knowing what’s going on.

Jim Meyer: That’s a disadvantage that a plaintiff in a case may have. Hospitals often times have entire departments in medical informatics, departments in which they have experts that know the in’s and out’s of the EMR, the metadata collected, often times plaintiffs do not, but they should be aware of the fact that that metadata exists. Extracting it from the record is often times… It is a need for an expert at computer forensics, expert, an IT expert. But it’s important that plaintiffs, and all attorneys, defense attorneys and plaintiffs attorneys realize that that information exists as metadata in these records, it can be obtained. We take great deal of effort to obtain it, but it’s there.

Lee Neubecker: And Jim and I co-authored a paper along with another attorney that appeared in the Illinois State Bar Association on EMR patient medical records, the audit trail and other things impacting HIPPAA and medical malpractice regulations. We’ll put that up here too so that you check that out. Anything else you’d like to add about your practice, Jim?

Jim Meyer: No, we’re happy practicing attorneys in Chicago, Illinois. I would recommend any attorney who is involved in any issue similar to this, to take a look at the article that Lee was kind enough to co-author with me and John Tomes, it really is a lot of information. Detailed information that attorney’s should know.

Lee Neubecker: Great, thank you.

Jim Meyer: You’re welcome.

To Learn More about Computer Forensics and Patient Electronic Medial Records

Read the Illinois State Bar Article co-authored by the interviewed subjects on Patient Medical Records.

Patient Medical Records: Metadata as Evidence in Litigation

ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS:

Metadata As Evidence in Litigation

By James G. Meyer* Jonathan P. Tomes** and Lee Neubecker***
As published: Vol. 101 #8, August 2013. Copyright by the Illinois State Bar Association www.isba.org

Doctor and hospital records are changing. The paper medical records that we have been familiar with, along with the rest of the “written” world, are becoming electronic —that is, written, maintained, and retrieved as digital data.

Because of many emerging “after entry” benefits, federal and state governments, insurance companies, and medical institutions are heavily promoting the adoption of Electronic Medical Records (“EMR”).[1] For example, the HITECH Act (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009[2]) includes both incentives and penalties in its calculations to encourage adoption of electronic records, versus continued use of paper records. The Act allows benefits of up to $44K per physician under Medicare or up to $65K over six years under Medicaid for adoption of electronic records. Additionally, Congress decreased Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements to doctors who fail to use electronic medical records by 2015 for covered patients.

This change in medical record keeping and changes in the laws and regulations associated with electronic medical record keeping are creating significant changes in what and how information may become evidence in litigation.

Attorneys who deal with medical records in any type of litigation should be aware of the changes in the following areas:

I. Electronic Medical Records and HIPAA

II. PHI as Electronically Stored Information

III. What is Discoverable: Metadata and Computer Forensics

IV. A Word about Encryption

V. Discoverability and Admissibility of Electronic Medical Records and Metadata

I. ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS AND HIPAA

Before the advent of electronic medical records, The Illinois Administrative Code itemized the minimum requirements for the content, management, and administration of medical records.[3]

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”)[4] sets out a comprehensive set of rules, safeguards, and definitions that are, effectively, applicable to most health care providers that use computers and electronic storage devices to store or transmit patient medical records. Excepted from the statute are institutions that do not transmit billing transmissions to and from Medicare/Medicaid or other health plans, an uncommon circumstance. With the HITECH Act’s incentives to use electronic health records, more and more providers will do so.

What we have understood to be doctor and hospital medical records, HIPAA defines more comprehensively as health information: “any information, whether oral or recorded in any form or medium, that:

i. Is created or received by a health care provider, health plan, public health authority, employer, life insurer, school or university, or health care clearinghouse; and

ii. Relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual; the provision of health care to an individual; or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.”[5]

Under HIPAA, Protected Health Information(“PHI’) is “individually identifiable health information” that is:

i. Transmitted by electronic media;

ii. Maintained in electronic media; or

iii. Transmitted or maintained in any other form or medium.”[6]

II. PHI AS ELECTRONICALLY STORED INFORMATION

To understand where and how EMR systems “transmit” and “maintain” PHI, it is helpful to use the terminology of computer experts. From their viewpoint, HIPAA’s PHI is Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”).

ESI is data stored, processed, retrieved or transferred by “Electronic Storage Devices.”[7] Electronic Storage Devices – a subclass of Electronic Media – are commonly known as diskettes, Flash Drives and CD/DVD Disk media. Both Electronic Storage Devices and Electronic Media are capable of containing ESI (thus PHI).

Electronic Storage Devices capable of storing ESI can be classified into two main categories – Non-Volatile Electronic Storage Devices and Volatile Electronic Storage Devices.

Non-Volatile Electronic Storage Devices store data on a more or less permanent basis, but can often be deleted or destroyed. These can be grouped into several categories – Primary Storage Devices, Secondary Storage Devices, Offline Backup/Archival, and “In the Cloud.” Examples of each are:

Primary Storage Devices

(1) Hard Disk Drives

(2) Disk Media

(3) ROM / PROM / EPROM

(4) Solid State Drives (Flash Storage)

(5) SIM Cards

(6) Multi Media Cards (SD, SDHC, SDXC, SDIO, and Others)

(7) Smart Cards, Chip Cards or Integrated Circuit Card

(8) Paper Based Storage (Punch Cards, Bar Codes, Scantron)

Secondary Storage Devices

(1) USB Thumb Drives / Flash Drives

(2) External Hard Disk Drives

(3) Disk Media (Floppy Disk, CD, DVD, Blue Ray)

(4) Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags

Offline Backup / Archival

(1) Magnetic Tape

(2) Disk Media (Floppy / CD / DVD / Blue Ray)

(3) Bar Code Paper Records

(4) CD / DVD Disk Media

In the Cloud (Utilizes all types of Storage)[8]

Volatile[9] Electronic Storage Devices retain a good deal of ESI for a discrete period of time, e.g. until such time that the Volatile source loses power. The RAM in a computer is an example of Volatile Electronic Storage Devices.

ESI may be transmitted between Electronic Storage Device sources via the internet, extranets, infrared, radio, Wi-Fi, Satellite, Cable, Broadband, cellular, leased lines, barcode, dial-up telephone lines, private networks, connected external devices, and devices that are physically moved from one location to another using magnetic tape, disc, or compact disc media.[10]

A patient’s PHI maintained in any of these Electronic Storage Devices or transmitted by any of these means of electronic transmission are potential sources of discoverable information. Smart phones and PDAs are increasingly used in association with electronic health data. Industry sources estimate that “in 2010, more that 50 percent of physicians were using smartphones or PDAs on a regular basis in clinical decision making.”[11] As an indication of how important mobile devices have become in healthcare, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (“HIMSS”), a leading non-profit industry group, has formed a separate entity, mHIMSS, to focus exclusively on the use of mobile and wireless technologies in healthcare.[12]

III. WHAT IS DISCOVERABLE: METADATA AND COMPUTER FORENSICS

The Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) regulations implementing HIPAA govern PHI with both a Privacy Rule[13] and a Security Rule[14]. As their names imply, the rules require adoption of enumerated standards and safeguards so that covered entities protect a patient’s electronic (and paper) medical records from unauthorized access,[15] tampering, or destruction[16].

Attorneys that have been involved with medical records in litigation since the enactment of HIPAA and the implementation of the DHHS regulations are generally aware that the Privacy Rule enumerates the ways to obtain PHI from health care providers during discovery by the use of written authorization or subpoena.[17]

In addition to delineating how to obtain PHI, HIPAA’s Privacy Rule also requires that covered entities have procedures in place to give individuals an accurate accounting of disclosures of their PHI in cases in which an accounting is required.[18]

HIPAA’s Security Rule requires that a covered entity “ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all electronic PHI the covered entity creates, receives, maintains or transmits”.[19] The standard specifically defines “confidentiality” as “the property that data or information is not made available or disclosed to unauthorized persons or processes” and “integrity” as “the property that data or information have not been altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner.”[20]

In order to implement the Privacy and Security Rules, HIPAA requires covered entities to use “audit controls,” such as “hardware, software, and/or procedural mechanisms that record and examine activity in information systems that contain or use electronic protected health information”[21] and to “implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports and security tracking reports.”[22] The Metadata generated by these audit control systems, about the access and use of a patient’s records and the use and operation of the computer device maintaining or transmitting the records, is typically not part of the formal medical record. But it can often be a gold-mine of important information that would not otherwise be obtainable in discovery.[23]

For example, Metadata in the form of an audit log or audit trail may be helpful with faulty or incomplete memories. An audit trail is a record of who, when, where, how and sometimes why a person used a computer program or accessed a patient’s medical record. Typically, the identity of the user who accesses the patient’s record, the time of access, the terminal or device used for access, the action taken by the user (i.e., viewing the record, changing the record), and the substance of anything added to the record and any changes or corrections made by the user are recorded in the Metadata which can be reproduced in the form of an audit trail or log. In a case known to the authors, a hospital audit trail produced during discovery, showing the “terminal identifier” for an EMR entry (the unique number assigned to each computer terminal in the EMR system) resulted in a nurse changing her testimony when it disclosed she was using a computer terminal in another part of the hospital, and was not with the patient, as she had testified.

Metadata, such as in an audit trail, is captured automatically by the EMR system. As a result, the audit trail should correspond, entry by entry, to the patient’s medical chart or record. If an entry in the audit trail shows data was added, changed or deleted, a corresponding entry should appear in the patient’s chart, and vice versa.

Metadata found in a forensic image of a medical record may be more helpful. A “forensic image” is not simply a copy of the electronic record; it is a bit-for-bit copy of all sectors of the media involved and must be done properly.[24] In a case known to the authors, the analysis of the Metadata on a video disk of a surgical procedure produced during discovery showed that the several of the video clip files in the series of video files that were generated during the procedure were deleted, with the remaining video clips renumbered in an apparent attempt to conceal what transpired during the missing video clips. An analysis of the DICOM video clip embedded Metadata within the contents of each of the DICOM video files revealed the original clip sequence numbers were different for the last few video clips. The file Metadata compared to the DICOM video clip embedded Metadata implied an intentional manipulation of the data in order to alter the events that actually occurred.

IV. A WORD ABOUT DATA ENCRYPTION

Data encryption does not ensure the confidentiality or integrity of PHI. HIPAA’s data encryption standards allow health care providers, health insurance companies and business associates who transmit, store or access protected health information in electronic form to utilize a standardized level of data encryption when encryption is reasonable and appropriate. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is an Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) approved cryptographic algorithm used to protect electronic data and is quite prevalent in the healthcare industry to secure data-at-rest, data-in-motion and data-in-transit.[25]

PHI data is vulnerable when actively used and stored in volatile memory. Much of a patient’s information is stored unencrypted in volatile memory when a computer device is actively working with a patient’s record or following the access of a patient’s record until such time that the data is discarded automatically or the computer device shuts off. Anyone with physical or network access to the device or a strong hacker skill set would have a reasonable opportunity to capture the non-encrypted information stored in volatile memory.

Another vulnerable area of risk is when PHI is in transit without the appropriate encryption safeguards. Encrypted ESI using today’s standards is unlikely to be compromised while in a data-at-rest, data-in-motion and data-in-transit state. But, ESI containing PHI is unencrypted at the point of service on a portable or fixed computing device. These devices are sometimes not properly secured with the appropriate physical and network security protections required, providing an opportunity to manipulate the unencrypted data.

V. Discoverability and Admissibility of Electronic Medical Records and Metadata

Illinois Supreme Court Rules make electronic data discoverable. Under Rule 201, “General Discovery Provisions,” discoverable “documents” include “all retrievable information in computer storage.”[26] Rule 214, “Discovery of Documents, Objects, and Tangible Things,” specifically requires production of “all retrievable information in computer storage in printed form.”[27]

Medical records have long been admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule. Before adoption of the Illinois Rules of Evidence (effective January 1, 2011), Illinois Supreme Court Rule 236(b), as amended in 1992, was generally accepted as permitting the admission into evidence of medical and hospital treatment records, in written or computer form, as business records. That rule is silent, however, as to computer generated “data” or “data compilations.” Any confusion in that regard seems resolved in the new Rules of Evidence.

In the first instance, much of the Metadata recorded in an electronic medical record may not be hearsay at all. Rule 801 defines a hearsay “statement” as the oral or written assertion or conduct of a “person.”[28] Automatically imprinted Metadata, is not the assertion or conduct of a person. See, People v. Holowko, 486 N.E.2d 877, 109 Ill. 187 (1985) (recognizing the difference between computer stored information, which may be hearsay, and computer generated information, which is not hearsay). Recorded Metatdata in an EMR system is similar to images recorded on surveillance cameras, which are not hearsay. People v. Tharpe-Williams, 676 N.E. 2d 717, 286 Ill. App. 3d 605 (1997). Because Metadata involves no human input in its creation, other than the actions taken by the user in creating or manipulating the file or record referenced by the Metadata, it is non-hearsay evidence.[29]

To the extent that Metadata does include human input, the new rules provide a hearsay exception for “a memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, in any form, of acts, events, conditions, opinions, or diagnoses” kept as part of a regularly conducted business activity.[30] In addition, the new rules make “writings” and “recordings,” defined to include “numbers . . . set down by . . . magnetic impulse, mechanical or electronic recording, or other form of data compilation,”[31] admissible as “duplicates”[32] or when offered “in the form of a chart, summary, or calculation.”[33]

Although Illinois decisions on the admission of electronic data are not as common as cases in the federal courts, Illinois cases predating the new rules have approved its admission. See, for example, Bachman v. General Motors, 776 N.E.2d 262, 332 Ill.App.3d 760, 267 Ill. Dec. 125 (2002), (approving admission of data retrieved from an automobile crash sensor in a personal injury case).

CONCLUSION

Medical records are in a state of transition from paper records to electronic data. Being aware of the changes to HIPAA, the HITECH Act, the DHHS Privacy Rule and Security Rule, and the capabilities of computer forensics, are necessary in dealing with electronic medical records as evidence.

*James G. Meyer is an attorney who practices in the law firm of Ialongo & Meyer in Chicago.

**Jonathan P. Tomes is an attorney admitted in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma who practices in the law firm of Tomes & Dvorak, Chartered, in Overland Park, Kansas, and consults around the country on HIPAA and the HITECH Act. He has also served as an expert witness on HIPAA, medical records, and the Federal Tort Claims Act in cases in Illinois, Washington, DC, and Colorado.

***Lee Neubecker is a computer forensics expert and the principal of Enigma Forensics, a Chicago based computer forensics & expert witness consulting firm.

Notes

[1] We mean “EMR” to include Electronic Medical Records (digital information created, gathered, managed and consulted by clinicians and staff within one health care organization), Electronic Health Records (“EHR”) (digital information that may be operated by clinicians and staff across more than one healthcare organization – sometimes referred to as “interoperability”) and Personal Health Records (“PHR”) (digital information that can be accessed and created by patients themselves). See, http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/faqs/what-difference-between-personal-health-record-electronic-health-record

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 42 C.F.R. Parts 412, 413, 422, et seq., Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Electronic Health Records Incentive Program; Final Rule; Title XIII of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, Subtitle A, Part 2, Subtitle C (hereinafter “HITECH Act”).

[3] 77 Ill. Admin. Code § 250.1510(b)(2).

[4] Public Law 104-191, 110 Stat. 1396 (1996).

[5] 45 C.F.R. §160.103.

[6] Id. (Note that PHI may also consist of paper records and oral communications).

[7] storage media

[8] The National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) of the U.S. Department of Commerce has defined cloud computing as follows:

Cloud computing has been defined by NIST as a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or cloud provider interaction.

Peter Mell, Tim Grance, The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing, Version 15, October 7, 2009 at http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SNS/cloud-computing. More and more large health care providers are hiring outside hosts to maintain their electronic health records “in the cloud,” using large companies like Google, Microsoft, or Amazon or smaller companies that provide hosting only for medical records.

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatile_storage

[10] Id.

[11] Putzer, J. MD, Park, Y, Are Physicians Likely to Adopt Emerging Mobile Technologies? Attitudes and Innovation Factors Affecting Smartphone Use in the Southeastern United States, Perspectives in Health Information Management, Spring 2012. p. 2, at http://www.perspectives.ahima.org/attachments/article/241/ArePhysiciansLikelyTo AdoptEmergingMobileTechnologies_final.pdf (last visited January 14, 2013).

[12] http://www.mhimss.org/about-us (last visited February 25, 2013).

[13] 45 CFR §164.500, Subpart E, Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information. (The Privacy Rule applies to both paper and electronic medical records.)

[14] 45 CFR §164.302, Subpart C, Security Standards for Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information.

[15] 45 CFR §164.502 Uses and disclosures of protected health information: general rules.

“(a) Standard. A covered entity may not use or disclose protected health information, except as permitted or required by this subpart or by subpart C of part 160 of this subchapter.”

[16] 45 CFR §164.306 Security standards: general rules.

“(a) General requirements. Covered entities must do the following:

(1) Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all electronic protected health information he covered entity creates, receives, maintains, or transmits.”

[17] See generally, 45 CFR §§ 164.506, 164.508, 164.510, 164.512.

[18] 45 C.F.R. § 164.528.

[19] 45 CFR §164.306(a)(1).

[20] 45 CFR §164.304.

[21] 45 C.F.R. § 164.312 (b) Standard: Audit controls.

[22] 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(D).

[23] See Thomas R. McLean, EMR Metadata Use and E-Discovery, 18 Ann. Of Health Law 75 (2009).

[24] hard drive imaging

[25] http://www.hipaacompliancejournal.com/2011/03/knowing-about-advanced-encryption-standard-aes/

[26] Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 201 (b)(1).

[27] Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 214. The Committee Comments to Rule 214 further clarify. “The first paragraph has also been amended to require a party to include in that party’s production response all responsive information in computer storage in printed form. This change is intended to prevent parties producing information from computer storage or computer discs or in any other manner that tends to frustrate the party requesting discovery from being able to access the information produced. Rule 201(b) has also been amended to include in the definition of ‘documents’ all retrievable information in computer storage, so that there can be no question but that a producing party must search its computer storage when responding to a request to produce documents pursuant to this rule.”

[28] Illinois Rule of Evidence 801(a).

[29] See generally, The Sedona Conference Commentary on ESI Evidence & Admissibility 10 (2008).

[30] Illinois Rule of Evidence 803(6) “Records of Regularly Conducted Activity.”

[31] Illinois Rule of Evidence 1001.

[32] Illinois Rule of Evidence 1003.

[33] Illinois Rule of Evidence 1006.

Reprinted with permission of the Illinois Bar Journal,

Vol. 101 #8, August 2013. Copyright by the Illinois State Bar Association www.isba.org

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