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A Short Course on Encryption and Cloud Storage

Course excerpt from Ethics & Risk Management: Expert Tips 8

Encryption and cloud storage is a complicated area because it requires an analysis of the interplay of several variables, including confidentiality, encryption, cloud storage and HIPAA. Each of these variables is complex, but there are ways to make the situation more manageable.

Cloud storageEncryption and cloud storage. Let’s consider a few common questions:

“For the purposes of HIPAA, if you have adequately encrypted your data, does your cloud storage provider need to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA)?”

The bottom line is that there is no crystal-clear answer to this question. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hasn’t specifically addressed this issue, so we are faced with the question of how to interpret the security rule.

There are two basic interpretations: “no,” and “yes.” Both have some support, and if you proceed with one interpretation you should consider the countervailing position.

First, the basics: HIPAA Covered Entities (CEs) who work with vendors are required to have their vendors sign BAAs. This is required because it allows the federal government to enforce the provisions of HIPAA on these third-party vendors.

The public policy at work is that CEs shouldn’t be allowed to offload their legal responsibilities to a third party that isn’t subject to regulatory oversight. BAAs are required whenever a third-party vendor has access to Protected Health Information (PHI).

Here’s where it gets complicated. PHI is identifiable data, but if the data are encrypted they are not identifiable. In such a case, why is a BAA necessary?

The interpretation against requiring a BAA for encrypted data finds some support in one of HIPAA’s safe harbor provisions, which states that losses of encrypted data do not trigger a breach notification (the letter CEs send out that apologetically admits to the disclosure of protected health information).

The reason why breach notifications is not required for encrypted data are that the data remain inaccessible if encrypted. The covered entity has essentially lost gibberish.

Thus, this interpretation goes, BAAs are also not required because the vendor does not have access to protected health information. That makes sense. However, it should be noted that this is a fairly permissive interpretation and HHS has declined to endorse this position.

The competing interpretation, which appears to be strongly supported by the official commentary on related regulations (especially the 2013 HITECH amendments to the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules), is that BAAs are required even when the data are encrypted.

Support for this position includes: HHS has not made the criteria for breach notifications the same as the criteria for needing a BAA.

The statutory exceptions for BAAs, such as those with incidental access (e.g., a janitor or electrician) or those who are mere “conduits,” do not apply to cloud storage providers. HHS has indicated that a data storage company is not a conduit because of the “persistent nature” of its contact with the data. Thus, it is persistency, and not the degree of access, that HHS has specifically indicated warrants consideration for the purposes of BAAs.

Commentary prior to the adoption of the security rule asked whether or not BAAs could be something that CEs could address, and thus render unnecessary. In other words, the question was asked, “if we as CEs take adequate security measures to ensure the protection of PHI, can we make BAAs unnecessary?” HHS specifically declined to make BAAs an “addressable” requirement.

Besides the issue of protecting PHI, BAs have additional responsibilities. These responsibilities include accessibility, data integrity, etc. If encryption enabled vendors to escape “business associate” (BA) status, HHS would have no jurisdiction. (From a risk management perspective, the execution of a BAA is something that many CEs do to “distribute” the risk.)

The definition of BA isn’t explicitly restricted to those who have access to PHI. The definition also includes those who perform “any other function or activity regulated by this subchapter.” (See 45 CFR 160.103(1)(i)(B)) The amount of functions and activities that are regulated under HIPAA is huge.

I want to emphasize that I understand the argument that where vendors have absolutely no access to PHI because the data are encrypted, the vendor doesn’t have encryption keys, etc., then HIPAA is (theoretically) a non-issue. It makes a lot of sense. However, we just don’t know at this time if HHS agrees with that position and we have some strong evidence that casts this position as too narrow.

However, the ambiguity also applies to the other interpretation: We don’t know if HHS agrees with the position that the storage of encrypted PHI (where the vendor has zero access to the PHI) still requires a BAA.

I hope this helps or at least provides some things to consider.


By Adam Alban, PhD, JD

Adam Alban, PhD, JD, hosts a website of general information for mental health professionals in California. He has an M.A. and PhD in clinical psychology from Michigan State University and a JD from American University in Washington, D.C. He operates a law practice specializing in legal assistance to mental health practitioners and also has a clinical psychology practice, the Alban Psychology Group. He may be reached at: alban@clinicallawyer.com.


Ethics & Risk Management: Expert Tips 8 is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course that addresses a wide variety of ethics and risk management topics, written by experts in the field.

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion.

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).

 

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Celebrating our 20th Birthday!

Professional Development Resources has now been providing accredited continuing education courses to psychologists, social workers, counselors, speech-language pathologists, registered dietitians and occupational therapists is celebrating it's 20th birthdayWe have now been providing accredited continuing education courses to psychologists, social workers, counselors, speech-language pathologists, registered dietitians and occupational therapists for 20 continuous years! Our company, which started as one person presenting a single live seminar to small groups in selected Florida cities, is now an established entity in the world of continuing education featuring over 170 CE courses that are available online 24/7 anywhere in the world.

We have earned formal recognition as a provider of continuing education by major professional boards, including the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). In addition, we are recognized by professional boards in Florida, California, Ohio, Illinois, South Carolina, and Texas.

“It is really hard to believe we have been doing this for 20 years,” says Leo Christie, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist and president of Professional Development Resources. “It is gratifying to look around us today and see where we are now, as compared with the early years. We are squarely in the digital world, with all of our continuing education courses available via the Internet and nearly all of our procedures completely paperless. As opposed to offering live seminars to small select audiences as we did when we started, we can now make our CE curriculum available to professionals anywhere in the world.”

It has not always been easy according to Christie. There were hard times, as one would expect in any business that has persisted for 20 years. “There were times I was not at all sure we were going to make it. When we transitioned from presenting live seminars to offering home study courses, it was a major transformation that required re-purposing our entire curriculum. Presenting material in written format is fundamentally different from doing so in live settings. Suddenly we had an urgent need for more topics and more courses. We had gotten along well with five or six topics in live seminars, but that was far too few to offer for self-study. Our most pressing and challenging task was curriculum development.”

Today, we have over 170 online continuing education courses covering a very wide variety of clinical topics such as domestic violence, professional ethics and boundaries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, Alzheimer’s, alternative therapies, mindfulness, multicultural issues, substance abuse and addiction, gender identity, preventing medical errors, ADHD, psychopharmacology, brain injury, eliminating self-defeating behaviors, overeating and obesity, treating chronic pain, and anxiety management. There are even a few unexpected and non-traditional courses, like Animal Assisted Therapy and Electronic Media and Youth Violence (Cyber-Bullying).

As a 20th birthday present to ourselves and all of our loyal customers, we are poised to launch a  new and revolutionary website platform, which will feature a wide array of user engagement tools we hope will propel us into the next 20 years.

About Professional Development Resources, Inc.

Professional Development Resources is a Florida nonprofit educational corporation founded in 1992 by licensed marriage and family therapist Leo Christie, PhD. The company, which is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) – as well as many other national and state boards – has focused its efforts on making continuing education courses more cost-effective and widely accessible to health professionals by offering online home study coursework. Its current expanded curriculum includes a wide variety of clinical topics intended to equip health professionals to offer state-of-the art services to their clients.

 

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20% Off CE in Celebration of our 20th Anniversary!

We’ve reached a major milestone: 20 years of continuous operation as an accredited provider of continuing education! We couldn’t have done it without you.

In celebration of our anniversary, and to thank you for your support, we are offering a 20% discount on all of our CE courses through June 30, 2012.

Use coupon code 20YEARS to apply during checkout @ www.pdresources.org. Coupon valid on FUTURE orders only (cannot be applied retroactively). Expires 6/30/2012.

20% off CE Sale

A History of PDR

Professional Development Resources was incorporated on August 12, 1992 in the State of Florida as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. Its mission was – and continues to be – to seek out the most recent scientific and clinical publications in selected professional areas of psychology, mental health, social work, nutrition, speech language pathology, and occupational therapy and to present continuing education topics of current clinical relevance to the named professions for the purpose of improving patient care.

The company’s founder, Leo Christie, PhD, is a Florida-licensed marriage and family therapist who was in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida from 1982 to 1992. With the intention of establishing an outlet for his interest in writing and teaching, Christie founded the new company and set out to explore the possibility of planning and delivering live educational seminars. The vice president and director of continuing education was – and still is – his wife, Dr. Catherine Christie, who is a registered dietitian.

Christie recalls the early years: “The first steps were to become credentialed by the professional boards, select and develop a topic, identify target audiences, implement a marketing plan, and arrange funding for a series of delivery sites in the State of Florida – a daunting process, to say the least. We set out to secure accreditations from some of the Florida licensing boards so that we could award official CE credit to those who attended our conferences. That process took over 8 months. I remember having some difficulty with the Florida Board of Psychology, and it required a personal appeal and some restructuring before we were eventually recognized as a CE provider. We also sought and received approval to offer CE to nurses, under the auspices of the New York Nurses Association, which was a widely accepted accrediting board at the time. In the early years, nurses represented more than 50% of our seminar attendees.

“During the summer and fall of 1993, we completed 12 six-hour seminars in 7 Florida cities. The summer seminars were titled ‘Fears, Phobia, and Panic’ and dealt with the full spectrum of anxiety disorders. In fall, we introduced a new topic ‘Compulsive Behaviors,’ which featured a study of obsessive compulsive disorder. As a startup year, 1993 generated enough revenue to make further planning and development possible for the new company.

From there, the company went on to secure provider accreditation credentials from a number of national and state boards, including the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE), the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) [now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]. The speaker circuit grew to the point at which there were four speakers on the road at one time presenting various topics in 46 of the 50 states.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in General

 

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Renewal Information for Indiana Social Workers, Counselors & MFTs

Indiana counselors, social workers and MFTs can earn all 40 continuing education hours for renewal online

Click to view approved online courses!

Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Mental Health Counselors licensed in the State of Indiana are required to obtain at least forty (40) hours of continuing education in order to renew their license. 20 hours must come from Category I (formal) courses and 1 hour on ethics from a Category I course is required each year. The license renewal deadline is March 31, 2012.

Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC Provider #5590) and by the American Psychological Association (APA) to offer continuing education for Social Workers, Counselors and MFTs. Indiana-licensees can earn all 40 hours per renewal through courses @ http://www.pdresources.org/Index.aspx (formal Category I).

Continuing Education Frequently Asked Questions

How many continuing education hours do I need to renew my license?

40 hours of continuing education credits are required for each renewal cycle or 20 CEUs per year.

What is the renewal cycle?

April 1st – March 31st of every even numbered year.

Are there any required courses I must take?

Yes, every licensee is required to take at least 1 hour of ethics in Category I continuing education each year.

How many hours of continuing education do I need if I have been licensed less than 24 months?

You will need 20 hours in order to renew your license.

How many hours of continuing education do I need if I have been licensed less than 12 months?

You do not need any continuing education in order to renew your license.

What are Category I CEUs and how many do I need per licensure cycle?

Category I is defined as continuing education that is formal programming, which includes the following:

  • Formally organized courses.
  • Workshops.
  • Seminars.
  • Symposia.
  • Institutes.
  • Home study programs, including computer; audio; video; and instructional programs, accredited by board-approved organizations.
  • Courses that are relevant to the license holder’s professional skills, which are part of the curriculum of an accredited university, college, or educational institution, shall earn fifteen (15) CEUs for each academic semester hour completed, or ten (10) CEUs for each academic quarter hour completed.
  • Faculty teaching a course for the first time at an accredited university, college, or educational institution shall earn one and one-half (1½) CEUs for every hour taught.

You are required to obtain a minimum of 20 Category I CEUs per renewal cycle.

What are Category II CEUs and how many do I need per licensure cycle?

Category II is defined as continuing education that is self-directed, which includes the following:

  • Journal clubs, earns one (1) CEU for each hour attended.
  • Office in-services, earns one (1) CEU for each hour attended.
  • Case conferences that are specifically designed for training or teaching, earns one (1) CEU for each hour attended.
  • Services as an instructor, presenter, or supervisor in a relevant professional seminar, workshop, or training conference earns one (1) CEU for each hour of service, but only for the initial instruction, presentation, or supervision given.
  • Research and publication of research results in a recognized professional journal or book form, earns ten (10) CEUs, but may only be claimed for the initial publication of the information.
  • Providing peer review of another licensee’s therapy and skills, which includes consultation, conference, and critique, earns one (1) CEU for each hour spent with the peer for this purpose.
  • Services on boards and commissions and holding office in professional organizations, specifically related to the licensee’s profession, earns one (1) CEU for each hour of service

You are not required to earn any Category II hours however, if you do use Category II hours towards you CEU requirement then you may acquire no more than 20 Category II CEUs per renewal cycle.

How do I document Category II hours?

You can record your hours on a Word document or spreadsheet.  You should include the date of the activity, the type of activity, and the amount of time you spent conducting the activity.

How many hours in Category II hours can I count?

You can count up to 10 Category II hours per year and a maximum of 20 per renewal cycle.

Can I take all of my CEUs in one year or do they have to be split evenly throughout the renewal period?

You can take as many CEUs as you like as long as you take at least 20 CEUs per year, a minimum of 10 of those hours must be Category I.

Can continuing education credits transfer from one renewal period to the next?

No. Credits can only be counted for the period in which they are taken.

Do copies of my completed continuing education certificates need to be sent to the licensure board when I renew my license?

No. Certificates are for your records and will only need to be submitted if you are audited.  However, it is required that licensees maintain copies of their CEU records for a period of four years in the event they are audited by the Board.

What do I do if I am audited?

Once you receive your audit letter you will need to either fax or mail in copies of continuing education certificates to the Board by the deadline stated on the letter.

What happens if I didn’t receive the necessary CEUs during a licensure cycle or can’t produce the necessary documents during an audit?

You will be required to make up the continuing education hours you are short and you will have to pay a fine.  The Board has adopted the proposed schedule as a general guideline for continuing education violations:

Behavioral Health and Human Services Licensing Board: http://www.in.gov/pla/social.htm

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in General

 

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Change to Online Hours Allowed for Georgia Counselors, Social Workers & MFTs

The Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists voted August 5, 2011 to adopt amendments to their rule regarding Continuing Education requirements. The primary change involved the number of online CE’s the Board will accept:

Change to Online Hours Allowed for Georgia Counselors, Social Workers & MFTs135-9-.01 Requirements. Amended
(4) A maximum of ten (10) hours of continuing education may be obtained online for each two-year renewal period. This rule change became effective on August 30, 2011

The Board also adopted on a policy during their August 5, 2011 Board meeting to accept all approved online CE hours obtained by a licensee between July 1, 2010 (NOT PREVIOUSLY USED TO SATISFY THE 2010 RENEWAL PERIOD) and September 30, 2011 for the upcoming September 2012 Renewal. This will apply ONLY for the 2012 renewal.

Simply put, this means:

  • Any CE Hours you have obtained between July 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011, if they meet the Board’s CE Hours provider requirements, will be accepted for the renewal of your license in 2012, even if all 35 CE Hours were online or a combination, just as in past years.
  • If you have not yet obtained any CE Hours for the 2012 renewal before September 30, 2011, then this new rule change applies to you: Only 10 CE Hours will be accepted from online (approved) sources.

Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC Provider #5590) and by the American Psychological Association (APA) to offer continuing education for Georgia Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage & Family Therapists (MFTs).

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in General

 

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20% Off New Year Specials for our 20-Year Anniversary!

New Year SaleHappy New Year!

We here at PDR are in the midst of planning a new website and celebrating our 20-year anniversary!

Our new website is under development with a tentative launch date of March 1, 2012. We are very excited about the user-friendly features our new website will offer and can’t wait to show you!

We’ll be running specials throughout the year for our anniversary, and are kicking it off with a 20% off New Year Sale on the following courses:

Hurry, sale ends March 31, 2012!

Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC Provider #5590); by the American Psychological Association (APA); by the National Association of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC, Provider #000279); by the Continuing Education Board of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to provide continuing education activities in speech-language pathology and audiology; by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA, #3159); and by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001). View additional accreditations here.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in General

 

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Renewal Information for California Social Workers, Counselors & MFTs

California-licensed Social Workers, Counselors and Marriage & Family Therapists (MFTs) are required to renew their licenses every 2 years from the date of issue.

36 hours of continuing education are required to renew. Of those, 6 hours must pertain to law and ethics each renewal. The following courses are required for the first renewal only:

  • 3 hour on aging/long-term care
  • 7 hours on spousal/partner abuse
  • 7 hours on HIV/AIDS

All 36 hours may be earned through electronic means (online courses) that are offered by a board-approved provider.

Professional Development Resources is approved by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (Approval #PCE1625). Over 100 online courses are available at: http://www.pdresources.org/Index.aspx

Click here for a brochure explaining the continuing education requirements.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in General

 

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