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Hospitals Worried About Breaches, Survey Shows

But most plan to increase security spending this year over last year
As the majority of hospitals prepare for the transition to electronic medical records (EMRs), most consider data breaches and unauthorized access to their clinical applications their biggest worry, a new survey shows.

About 80 percent of IT professionals at hospitals in the survey, conducted by Imprivata, say locking down patient information from breaches and unauthorized access is a top priority, up from 62 percent last year. And 76 percent are most worried about confidential data breaches or abuse of their clinical applications as their biggest security concerns.

Barry Chaiken, chief medical officer at Imprivata, says he thinks hospitals are worried both about existing threats, as well as new threats that EMRs could present. "Surely as we increase the amount of patient data in electronic format, there is more to be exposed if a breach occurs," he says. The HITECH Act is driving healthcare organizations to provide medical records in electronic format, and that will help ensure more accurate records, he notes.

"We have to keep in mind that there are some who, either through lack of proper training, ignorant curiosity, or malice, access information that they are not authorized to view. To gain the public's trust, healthcare organizations must take the necessary steps, both in using the best available technology and implementing effective processes, to protect patient data," Chaiken says.

Meanwhile, 62 percent say they are able to track inappropriate access to data in order to comply with the HITECH Act's disclosure rules, while 38 percent cannot.

When it comes to the federal stimulus bill for EMR implementations, 48 percent of the hospitals say they aren't sure whether their EMR deployment qualifies for the funding. "It is most surprising that so many respondents did not know whether their EMR implementation qualified for ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] funding, while an additional large number had not calculated their financial entitlement. I would have thought that with all the publicity on the subject, everyone would have been focused on this issue," Chaiken says.

More than 80 percent use passwords for their strong authentication; 37 percent, biometrics; 35 percent, facility access cards; and 17 percent, tokens.

The good news is that 74 percent of the hospitals in the survey say they plan to spend more on security this year than they did in 2009. Around 97 percent say their purchasing decisions are driven by HIPAA and HITECH Act regulations.

"EMRs are driving the spending on HIT [healthcare IT] overall, but I think it is total HIT spending that is driving the spending on security," Chaiken says. "Organizations now realize how important it is to secure patient data and protect patient privacy. With more information in electronic format, the risks are greater."

A copy of the full survey results is available for download here (PDF). Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.