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Electronic Health Records Raise Security Risks

Consumer concerns about medical information privacy may be warranted, as many healthcare providers aren't doing enough to protect their data, finds CDW survey.

17 Leading EHR Vendors
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Slideshow: 17 Leading EHR Vendors

According to a survey of 1,000 people who recently visited a healthcare facility, 49% believe that electronic health records (EHRs) will have a negative impact on the privacy of their personal health information.

The findings of the survey, "Elevated Heart Rates: EHR and IT Security," which were released on Tuesday, also show that respondents hold healthcare delivery organizations responsible for protecting financial information (86%), personally identifiable information (93%), and any information provided about a patient's family (94%).

The survey, which was conducted from January 24 to January 31, interviewed respondents who had been to both a doctors' office and hospital/outpatient clinic in the previous 18 months. The poll was conducted by CDW Healthcare, a subsidiary of CDW.

As health delivery organizations move from paper-based systems to digitized medical records, research shows that incidents of fraud resulting from health data theft have increased in recent years.

In an interview with InformationWeek, Bob Rossi, VP of CDW Healthcare, said digitized medical records should be accompanied by a plan that focuses on implementing health IT security software, as well as adopting security measures that prevent unlawful or unauthorized access to patients' medical information by staff members.

"Investment in technology addresses some of the problem, but healthcare delivery organizations need to make IT security a real focus and then also make the necessary updates to business processes and approach to personnel training. You will never 'certify' away mistakes, malicious intent, and human nature," Rossi said.

Based on this report and other health-related research, CDW Healthcare has identified preliminary steps for healthcare organizations focused on improving their security profile. These include:

-- Execute an IT Security Assessment: Many healthcare organizations do not know the current state of their IT security infrastructure, and fewer know what constitutes an adequate profile. Healthcare organizations need to work with a trusted partner to get a baseline understanding of what their security profile looks like today.

-- Start with the Basics: Notably, 30% of physician practices state that they do not use antivirus software and 34% do not use network firewalls. At the absolute minimum, healthcare organizations need to immediately implement steps to meet reasonable security standards.

-- Protect Your Investment: As healthcare organizations consider the transition to EHRs, they have the perfect opportunity to implement IT security practices tailored to their solution. This not only protects a sizable investment in technology, but also ensures that as patient data goes digital, security protections are already in place.

-- Start Now; Reassess Often: IT security is not a one-time fix, emphasized CDW Healthcare. Although the EHR transition is a perfect time to initiate tighter IT security controls, all healthcare organizations need to consider their IT security profiles and should consider conducting an assessment at least once a year.

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