As the Obama Administration continues to advocate for a nationwide network of electronic health records that would allow for better information sharing among healthcare providers, a new analysis shows that millions of electronic patient records have been compromised in the past years in data security breaches.
According to the analysis, published April 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, healthcare organizations put 29.1 million patient records at risk between 2010 and 2013 as the result of 949 reported security breaches.
“The personal information of patients in the United States is not safe, and it needs to be,” Dr. David Blumenthal of the Commonwealth Fund and attorney Deven McGraw of the law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips wrote in an editorial published alongside the study. “Even if only 15 million or 5 million patients had their data breached, it is too many.”
In order to conduct the study, Dr. Vincent Liu, of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, and Dr. Mark A. Musen and Timothy Chou, both of Stanford University, sorted data from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services database, focusing in on breaches affecting at least 500 people. They found that these large data breaches made up 82.1% of the reports in the database for the time period studied, and that the total number of reported breaches increased annually, from 214 in 2010 to 265 in 2013.
Almost 60% of the reported breaches involved theft.
The experts seem to agree that the answer isn’t regressing from electronic data storage, but rather enforcing — or self-enforcing — better data management in the healthcare field.
Blumenthal and McGraw explained that these kinds of breaches could discourage patients from taking full advantage of what electronic records offer and from sharing their information. The latter effect could cripple important medical research.
“I don’t think people expect 100% assurance of safety and privacy and security, but I think they want to know that the government and the responsible private parties are working hard to make it safer all the time and I don’t think we’ve done enough to convince people of that yet,” they wrote.