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Telemedicine Applications Put Your Practice at Risk of a Cyberattack Print E-mail
Written by Tom Murphy   
Tuesday, 26 May 2020 10:17

The current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of telemedicine. It has forced the sudden adoption of telemedicine by many medical practices and healthcare systems, accompanied by government and payer emergency measures that have helped to make telemedicine care easier. Most of these emergency measures will sunset, and while most physicians and patients will welcome the return to safe in-person visits, the dramatic increase in virtual care is here to stay.

The use of telemedicine apps, along with the large number of people working remotely, has created the potential for the acceleration of cyber security breaches. These security breaches are not just limited to the medical practice and can impact your patients as well.

It is widely known that medical records, or personal health information (PHI), is the most-sought-after information for cyber criminals due to the amount of money this information can fetch on the Dark Web. The current COVID-19 pandemic has made obtaining this information easier for cyber criminals due to the large volume of people that have started using telemedicine apps in a period of a few months. The most-common forms of these cyber attacks seeking PHI are currently ransomware and cyber extortion. Cyber criminals are getting very proficient at tricking people into falling for phishing scams that allow them into your system to collect information or lock down your system until a “ransom” is paid. Another cyber-attack method is when the criminal pretends to be someone in your organization or with whom you regularly do business and tricks an unsuspecting individual into wiring funds, believing that the criminal is a legitimate business partner. This is a fraudulent transfer of funds.

A single data breach can have costly, long-term implications that can severely impact your medical practice and create a business interruption that can be difficult to overcome. The good news is that unlike most insurance policies, a good cyber policy will protect you for the business-interruption exposure. In addition to this very-important coverage, you are also protected for ransomware, cyber extortion, breach notification costs, data recreation, regulatory fines and penalties, credit monitoring, fraudulent transfer of funds, public relations, and much more. To learn more, call Danna-Gracey at 800-966-2120.
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Tom Murphy specializes in professional liability and workers’ compensation. Based in Delray Beach, FL, he is an experienced risk management consultant, providing physicians and various medical entities with risk and claims management techniques for implementation.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 May 2020 10:25
 
Veritas Farms, Inc. Announces Expanded Relationship with Toast Distillers, Inc. to Address Hand Sanitizer Needs Nationwide Print E-mail
Written by FHInews   
Friday, 15 May 2020 10:00

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ― Veritas Farms, Inc. (OTCQB: VFRM) ― a vertically-integrated agribusiness focused on the production of full spectrum hemp extracts with naturally occurring cannabinoids ― is pleased to announce that it has partnered once again with Miami-based Toast Distillers, Inc., to address the growing need for hand sanitizers throughout the U.S. in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Veritas Farms will utilize its national distribution network of over 6,000 retail stores and rapidly growing online presence to make readily available varying sizes and dispensers of the hand sanitizer produced locally by The Miami Distilling Company, a subsidiary of Toast Distillers, Inc.

The hand sanitizer contains 70% isopropyl alcohol, aloe vera, and vitamin E. It will be available online beginning Monday, May 18th, through Veritas Farms’ robust online platform at https://www.theveritasfarms.com/shop/.

Toast Distillers, Inc. has been adroit in responding to demand for hand sanitizers both in South Florida and nationwide since the early stages of COVID-19. This demand is from many sectors including military, government, and traditional retail. 

Alexander M. Salgado, CEO and co-founder of Veritas Farms, commented, “We are excited to add hand sanitizers to our expanding product lines both at the store level and our online platform. “It is a great feeling to be partnering again with Toast Distillers, Inc. as we did at Art Basel as the Official Health and Wellness Sponsor during Miami Art Week in December 2019.”

“To work again with Alex and his marketing team to maximize distribution of Veritas Farms-branded hand sanitizers is right in line with our current distilling objectives,” said Dieuveny “DJ” Jean Louis, founder and CEO of Toast Distillers, Inc. “Veritas Farms ― which has a national presence with multiple products in many of the major retail chains, as well as online ― is the perfect retail partner for Toast Distillers, Inc.”

About Veritas Farms, Inc.
Veritas Farms, Inc. (OTCQB: VFRM) is a vertically integrated agribusiness focused on producing superior quality, whole plant, full spectrum hemp oils and extracts containing naturally occurring cannabinoids.  The Company currently operates a 140-acre farm and production facilities in Pueblo, Colorado, and is registered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp.  The Company markets and sells products under its Veritas Farms™ brand and manufactures private label products for a number of leading distributors and retailers. Veritas Farms™ brand full spectrum hemp oil products include vegan capsules, tinctures, formulations for sublingual applications and infused edibles, lotions, salves, and oral syringes in a variety of size formats and flavors.  All Veritas Farms™ brand products are third-party laboratory tested for strength and purity.  The Company files periodic reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which can be viewed at www.sec.gov.
For additional information and online product purchase, visit www.theveritasfarms.com
Veritas Farms, Inc. - Investor Contact
Toll-Free: (888) 549-7888
E-mail: ir@theveritasfarms.com

About Toast Distillers, Inc. 
Toast Distillers, Inc. ("Toast") is a Miami-based spirits conglomerate. The company was founded by Dieuveny "DJ" Jean Louis, aka "Mr. Toast.” It is known best for its ultra-premium vodka, Toast™. The company includes The Miami Distilling Company, where the company produces all of its products. Toast Distillers specializes in developing brands internally, as well as facilitating the branding and distribution needs of other specialty spirits companies. The company's products include a full range of ultra-premium to midline and well-line spirits products for vodka, rum, gin, tequila and whiskey. For more information, email info@toastdistillers.com or visit www.toastdistillers.com or www.toastvodka.com.

About The Miami Distilling Company
The Miami Distilling Company is the regional leader in the production of distilled spirits. The portfolio includes brands such as Toast Vodka™, Voka Vodka™, Amazing Brands and TMDC™ Spirits.

Cautionary Language Concerning Forward-Looking Statements
This press release contains “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.  All statements, other than statements of historical fact, including those with respect to the Company’s mission statement and growth strategy, are “forward-looking statements.”  Although the Company's management believes that such forward-looking statements are reasonable, it cannot guarantee that such expectations are, or will be, correct.  These forward-looking statements involve many risks and uncertainties, which could cause the Company’s future results to differ materially from those anticipated.  Potential risks and uncertainties include, among others, general economic conditions and conditions affecting the industries in which the Company operates; the uncertainty of regulatory requirements and approvals; and the ability to obtain necessary financing on acceptable terms or at all.  Additional information regarding the factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from these forward-looking statements is available in the Company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The Company assumes no obligation to update any of the information contained or referenced in this press release.

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Last Updated on Friday, 15 May 2020 10:24
 
Explosive Growth in Telemedicine Offers Possibilities and Peril Print E-mail
Written by FHInews   
Thursday, 30 April 2020 10:00

Widely available communications apps have been given a pass on compliance with HIPAA regulations regardless of whether or not the virtual visit is directly related to COVID-19. On March 17, 2020, in an effort to maximize critical healthcare resources, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it will “exercise its enforcement discretion,” waiving penalties against healthcare providers for HIPAA violations while serving patients through non-secure communication methods, when used in good faith for telemedicine service, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.

“All of the efforts that CMS is making to give more flexibility to the healthcare system to make sure that they are better prepared to deal with this surge,” according to Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and a senior member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce. “If we know that people can get good medical care, that’s also going to help keep down (fatalities).”

All the changes are on an emergency, temporary basis, Verma says. The OCR's enforcement discretion applies to “non-public-facing” remote communication products, which it defines as products that, “as a default, allow only the intended parties to participate in the communication.” According to a recent HHS post entitled FAQs on Telehealth and HIPAA during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency:

Non HIPAA-compliant platforms included in the relaxed guidelines include Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, WhatsApp video chat, or Skype, as well as texting applications such as Signal, Jabber, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, or iMessage. Not permissible or covered by the Notification are public-facing products such as Facebook Live, Twitch and TikTok.

A provider hosting a public presentation via livestream or in a chat room, for example, should not identify patients or provide individual patient advice.

While done to empower medical providers to serve patients during this national health emergency, the enforcement discretion measures do potentially leave telemedicine consumers, and their private healthcare data, exposed. Had HIPAA restrictions been relaxed six months ago, before COVID-19 was on anyone’s radar screen, the medical community would have pushed back over concerns around fraud and abuse. These concerns are still valid, despite the current crisis.

Impact on Telemedicine Sector
Providers (both healthcare providers and technology service providers) who invested in HIPAA and HITECH compliant technology are operating at a competitive disadvantage to those who didn’t. Further, providers will suffer reputational damage if large-scale breaches occur.

Impact on Healthcare Consumer
The annual number of breached patient records has nearly tripled since 2018, according to the recently released 2020 Protenus Breach Barometer®. Threats to patient data ranged from external incidents, like hacking, to insider-related incidents in which healthcare insiders, either unwittingly or maliciously, compromised sensitive patient information. These data breaches cause headaches for patients far beyond just the financial strain of mitigating damage to their financial and personal lives. Often, privacy and safety are also compromised. The rewards for online criminals who hack, sell or buy patient records may not be as rich as they once were, but recent estimates still put the value of a stolen patient health record at around $50. Still, experts warn that the data is “evergreen,” meaning it persists and can be sold multiple times because unlike when a credit card is stolen, healthcare data cannot simply be shut down, frozen, or changed. Reclaiming data, which often includes Social Security numbers, billing and appointment information and home addresses, (and preventing it from being reused or altered by criminals) can prove frightening and difficult. Ultimately, preventing health data breaches from occurring is the best course of action.

“Part of looking out for yourself and your family is making sure that your healthcare providers are HIPAA compliant, even when they don't have to be,” said Mario Espino, CEO of MDsOnDemand.com, a HIPAA compliant telemedicine provider. “And once your data has been compromised, there is not a 'do over' button you can press.”

"There are unscrupulous providers out there, and they have much greater reach with telehealth," said Mike Cohen, an operations officer with the Health and Human Services Inspector General's Office, which investigates healthcare fraud. "Just a few can do a whole lot of damage."

What Providers Need to Be Aware of Going Forward
The OCR has promised further guidance on how covered health care providers can use remote video communication products and responsibly offer telemedicine to patients. For now, the office emphasizes that providers should notify patients when third-party applications potentially introduce privacy risks, and providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications. Currently, the new enforcement discretion measures have no expiration date. However, once the public health emergency is declared to be ended, the OCR has stated it will resume its normal HIPAA enforcement process and HIPAA-covered healthcare providers will be required to return to full HIPAA compliance. The enforcement discretion applies to:

• All patients whether they are covered by Medicare or Medicaid

• All health care providers covered by HIPAA that provide telehealth

• All types of telehealth, whether or not payors impose reimbursement restrictions

• Noncompliance with the HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification rules, but no impact on HHS regulations related to confidentiality of substance abuse disorders

• When a telemedicine session is breached or hacked

The Notification of Enforcement Discretion on telehealth remote communications is HERE.

The FAQs on telehealth remote communications is HERE

In the short run, it’s good policy to reduce restrictions around telemedicine. Further down the road, a return to normalized guidelines will be in the best interest of patient and provider. Telemedicine is here to stay. COVID-19 is causing it to scale-up much faster than forecast. It promises to be a bumpy ride but, in the long-run, telemedicine promises to be a valuable part of the toolbox for those aspiring to the Triple Aim (improving the patient experience of care; improving the health of populations; and. reducing the per capita cost of health care).

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 April 2020 11:28
 
Experts express skepticism that COVID-19 originated in Wuhan lab Print E-mail
Written by Geoff Brumfiel, Emily Kwong | NPR   
Friday, 24 April 2020 17:33

Virus researchers say that there is virtually no chance that the New Coronavirus was released as result of a laboratory accident in China or anywhere else. The assessment, made by over half-a-dozen scientists familiar with lab accidents and how research on coronaviruses is conducted, casts doubt on recent claims that a mistake may have unleashed the Coronavirus on the world. The accident theory has been prominently advanced by the Trump Administration in recent weeks. But after corresponding with ten leading scientists who collect samples of viruses from animals in the wild, study virus genomes and understand how lab accidents can happen, NPR found that an accidental release would have required a remarkable series of coincidences and deviations from well-established experimental protocols.

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The Transformation of the Healthcare System Print E-mail
Written by David H. Fater   
Wednesday, 15 April 2020 15:51

Across the nation, non-essential businesses have closed or transitioned to remote work while hospitals and surgical centers have canceled elective procedures to avoid further spreading the Coronavirus and devote resources to treating COVID-19 patients.
 
The federal government is delivering billions to healthcare organizations to support those efforts and the $2 trillion stimulus package has special provisions for small businesses. Congress is considering a second stimulus package that would include a big focus on funding healthcare organizations. The pandemic is transforming healthcare on every level and the agile organizations that keep quality care and patient experience top of mind will thrive.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen three crises cause fundamental industry transformation. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought about a complete change in domestic security and the homeland security industry; the 2008 financial crisis brought about fundamental changes to the banking and financial industry; and the current COVID-19 pandemic will drive transformational change in healthcare. Not all of the changes implemented from the first two were necessarily good or beneficial but, nevertheless, they occurred and most remain in effect today impacting many of the things we do on a daily basis. It is inconceivable to not think that many changes being implemented to deal with COVID-19 in the short-term will remain with us in the long-term and represent major transformation in the way healthcare is practiced and delivered.

What follows are 6 significant ways healthcare will change dramatically as a result of this pandemic - and some of those are not even on our conscious mind.

1. Efficient resource allocation will be achieved by more centralized command and governance of healthcare. The pandemic has highlighted several major issues with the way the current  U.S. healthcare system is functioning impacting resource allocation, information sharing, and lack of collaboration. States and health care systems were incredibly bidding against one another for the same resources and supplies. Thankfully, with prodding from the government, competing organizations, health systems cities and states are now collaborating to ensure  providers have what they need to care for patients. In the hardest hit areas, including New York, the state government has usurped a lot of control of healthcare to force more sharing of resources among providers. It would not be inconceivable that states and governments will create an organization similar to the Homeland Security Department that has the authority to acquire the necessary information and power to make sure they understand what the problem is such as identifying where more supplies are needed, and making a decision to efficiently allocate resources,  In the future this will be an issue of national security. If governments don't have that power (which they do not now have, the next time this happens we won't be able to react any better. One could envision a new type of governing body that will manage the data aggregation and reporting in healthcare. CMS has already directed hospitals to send daily updates on COVID-19 testing as well as bed capacity and supply needs so the federal government can respond accordingly. This, interestingly enough, leads us into the next item.

2. Healthcare organizations will engage in greater information sharing. Sadly, we have been preaching interoperability and data sharing for years with little to no progress because of the 500+ software vendors peddling Electronic Medical Records. (Unlike the retail industry in the 1970's that formed a committee and developed standards that gave us UPC codes and the ability of manufacturers and retailers to communicate, healthcare now has no standards and systems that are incapable of talking to one another.) Long before the coronavirus emerged, the  guidelines around interoperability were being examined with the 21st Century CURES Act. In early March, the agency announced new guidance that prohibits blocking the spread of information blocking and gives patients access to their personal health records. As the coronavirus hit, the federal government continued to relax regulations around information sharing to ensure the best outcomes possible during the pandemic. As a result of the experience of the pandemic there finally is no question now that there will be greater sharing of medical records between hospitals and providers as I have been recommending for years. Patients need to be able to take their information from one place to the next via a personal health record, much like they can take their debit cards from one bank to the next and withdraw funds without extra cost. In healthcare, going from one system to another should be seamless for the patient. In fact, there was a company that had developed such a vehicle with special image compression software such that the patient had a "credit card" with a USB connection such that all interactions with providers together with images could be possessed by the patient so he has up to date medical records for the provider to access during the encounter.

3. Patients will take a more active role in their care. Almost all physicians have turned to telemedicine during the pandemic to stay connected with their patients. CMS finally adopted reimbursement levels for telemedicine permitting more widespread use. With the expanded access to telemedicine, and as the patient comfort level increases, it will be easier for patients to shop for their care. Coupled with the ability to take their health records with them, patients won't need to be locked into one provider or health care system.This will be a major change and shift power to the patient. In doing so, the patient will become better educated and start to take a greater role in their care decisions. This is another philosophy I have expounded for years and see the preceding comment for a vehicle to take their medical records with them and be up to date.

4. Patients will want to stay away from hospitals and want more procedures performed in outpatient settings such as Ambulatory Surgery Centers, Urgent Care Centers and Imaging Centers.  The push to free standing facilities out of the hospital has been initiated by the Affordable Care Act and the push to reduce healthcare costs. Now with the risk of hospital acquired infections increased as a result of COVID-19, more and more services will be performed outside of hospitals.  

5. Direct Primary Care may see even more rapid growth. The important features are:
  •   DPC physicians foster an enduring doctor-patient relationship
  •   DPC is growing and DOs are joining in
  •   Efforts are underway to enhance DPC
  •   DPC offers upfront pricing
  •   DPC embraces the ‘quadruple aim of medicine'
6. Insurance Companies may suddenly find themselves less relevant or important. As I have indicated in past newsletters, employers may accelerate their direct contracting with providers. This may not be directly attributable to COVID-19 but employers may contract directly with providers eliminating the insurance company in the equation. A perfect example of this is General Motors which directly contracted with the Henry Ford Health System (kind of ironic-Ford and GM) to provide all medical care for their 34,000 employees in a risk-sharing contract. We have local examples in Florida with JM Family Enterprises and Walt Disney World. This is still a work in process.

The Coronavirus has had a worldwide impact and there will be permanent ramifications in the United States. Right now, the most important issue is to rid the virus and return to a better state of normalcy.

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To explore ways in which we can provide assistance in assisting with your  strategy or decipher the changing reimbursement rules being promulgated by CMS in this evolving health care environment, please contact David H. Fater at dfater@alda-associates.com or Richard M. Cohen at rcohen@alda-associates.com

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 April 2020 10:40
 
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