Healthcare Data Breaches

Posted on September 23, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I was recently sent an Information Week article on the “Steady Bleed: State of HealthCare Data Breaches.” The article basically tries to list out all of the data breaches that are happening in healthcare and how healthcare companies aren’t doing what they need to do to protect patient data.

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that more can always be done. I even agree that more can and needs to be done to protect patient information. However, I don’t agree with the article’s assertion that the use of an electronic health record (EHR) is the reason why health care providers are so poorly securing patient information.

Many of you might remember my post on EMR and EHR about HIPAA Breaches related to EMR. In that post, I discuss how it’s unfair for someone to automatically assume that if there was a breach, then it was the electronic medical record software’s fault. In the analysis I did in the above post, I found that most of the HHS list had nothing to do with EMR software. In fact, many of the HIPAA breaches were lost devices which contained lists of insurance information. EHR had nothing to do with that.

I’m not saying that breaches don’t happen with an EMR. They do. However, most of the examples given in the Information Week article could have happened just as easily in the paper world. It didn’t take an electronic health record for people to start looking up famous sports stars health information.

Maybe the real difference with an EHR is that now we can know and track who accesses each patient record. That just means that now we actually know about all the violations whereas with paper charts they’d just happen and we’d likely never know about it or have a way to prove that it happened. So, yes, the number of reported HIPAA breaches should be going up. We have more information to report on.

The good thing long term is that with an EHR we now have tracking mechanisms that allow us to hold someone accountable for their breaches of HIPAA. If this accountability is taken seriously, the number of breaches will go down. That’s a much better long term solution than the naive ignorance of not knowing about breaches in the paper chart world.

Sure not all EHR software is secure. They need to fix that and improve that. However, the numbers and reports I’ve seen don’t seem to indicate that breaching an EHR software’s security is the real problem. There are far easier ways to take patient data than trying to breach an EHR’s security system. Let’s focus on those other ways that people take patient data and punish it appropriately. That’s far more productive than saying that we’re rushing too quickly into an unsecured EHR world.