In a revision of its policies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has instructed its regional offices to place more of an emphasis on investigating smaller healthcare data breaches that affect fewer than 500 individuals.

Beginning this month, each OCR regional office was to “increase its efforts to identify and obtain corrective action to address entity and systemic noncompliance related to [smaller] breaches" that violate HIPAA regulations, according to an OCR alert (published here on a law firm website).

Regional offices will continue to investigate all breaches affecting 500 people or more. The previous policy had also encouraged regional offices to investigate smaller breaches, but only if resources were available. OCR is advising its regional offices to prioritize smaller incidents based on such factors as breach size, theft or disposal of unencrypted PHI (Protected Health Information), and involvement by hackers.