Health Data Hacking Likely To Increase

Posted on February 15, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Wondering about trends in the various protected health information breaches you seen in the news every now and then? Here’s some hard numbers, courtesy of IT security firm Redspin, which has pulled together data on incidents reported to HHS since breach notification rules went into effect in August 2009.

According to Redspin research, a total of 538 large breaches of PHI, affecting 21.4 million patient records, have been reported to HHS since the notification rule when into effect as part of the HITECH Act.  The largest breach in 2012 resulted in exposure of 780,000 records.

Between 2011 and 2012, there was a 21.5 percent increase in the number of large breaches reported, but interestingly, a 77 percent decrease in the number of patient records impacted, Redspin reports.

More than half of the breaches (57 percent) involved a business associate, and 67 percent were the result of theft or loss. Thirty-eight percent of incidents took place due to data on a laptop or other portable electronic device which wasn’t encrypted.

During 2012, the top five incidents contributed almost two-thirds of the total number of patient records exposed. They each had different causes, however, making it hard to draw any  broad conclusions as to how PHI gets breached.

Meanwhile, if that business associate stat intrigues you, check this out: historically, the firm concludes, breaches at business associates have impacted 5 times as many patient records as those at a covered entity. (It certainly encourages one to take a second look at how skilled their business associates are at maintaining security.)

While all of this is interesting, perhaps the most important info I came away with was that Redspin thinks health data hacking is likely to increase in coming years. From 2009 to the date of the report, hacking has contributed to only 6 percent of breaches, but the biggest breach, an Eastern European-based attack on the State of Utah “should end any complacency,” Redspin advises.