The latest report--2011 Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy and Data Security--estimates that data losses and security breaches cost the U.S. healthcare industry about $6.5 billion. And healthcare organizations face challenges in their ability to stem those losses.
Some 61% of organizations said they are not confident they know where their patient data is physically located, 55% said they have little or no confidence in their ability to detect all privacy incidents, and 46% reported that patient data breaches and data losses occurred among third-party business associates.
[ Mobile devices are not the only new security concern. Read Healthcare Cloud Brings Access Control Concerns. ]
Fighting patient data losses and security breaches will entail beefing up health IT personnel and procedures to combat these weaknesses. However, 54% of respondents said they have an inadequate budget for security and privacy, 45% said there is insufficient risk assessment, and another 43% identified a lack of trained staff and end users as a problem.
"Healthcare organizations tend to underspend relative to other industries on security. A lot of healthcare organizations figure that their mission in life is to treat people and get them well, it's really not about patient data security," Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, told InformationWeek Healthcare.
Ponemon also said that while the healthcare industry is required to meet security and privacy regulations under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), many organizations don't do enough to enforce privacy and security measures.
"They'll check the box to say we have a training program, but they really don't do enough of a deep sophisticated comprehensive security check that can affect the security posture of the healthcare organization," Ponemon added.
Further complicating matters has been the increasing use of mobile devices by doctors and other clinicians. The study found that 81% of healthcare organizations report that they use mobile devices to collect, store, and transmit some form of protected health information. However, 49% of participants admit their organizations do nothing to protect these devices.
"Mobile devices are the authentication mechanism by which a physician or a clinician gets into the health database. So if you are really sloppy on security and these devices get into the hands of a cyber criminal it could get them into the crown jewels of patient data," Ponemon said.
The report, which relied on feedback from 72 healthcare organizations, was sponsored by ID Experts, a company that provides software and services designed to protect businesses and individuals from fraud and identity theft.
According to Rick Kam, president and co-founder of ID Experts, there are several steps healthcare professionals and organizations can take to reduce the number of patient data breaches.
One key step is to improve the types of passwords being used. Many people use the same password--or a variation of it--for everything, from unlocking their smartphone to accessing their bank accounts to logging into Facebook. Best practices suggest that users should vary their passwords and use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, changing them periodically can minimize potential damage.
Patients also need to better understand how their medical data is managed and what they should do if their information is compromised. Frequently, when data is compromised, hacked, or lost, those in charge of the data offer the victim credit monitoring. Kam said patients facing the potential threat of lost or stolen data should tell the healthcare provider they want medical identity monitoring services that will alert them to suspicious activity involving your medical claims.
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