How important is a patient’s privacy? If your organization is a health care facility, the instinctive answer that comes to mind is “Very important!” After all, a patient’s privacy is the basis upon which the doctor/patient relationship is based. Right?
But the real answer, when it comes to patient data, may surprise you. According to a study released by the Ponemon Institute, “patient data is being unknowingly exposed until the patients themselves detect the breach.”
The independent study, entitled “Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy and Data Security” published in November of 2010 examined the privacy and data protection policies of 65 health care organizations, in accordance with the mandated Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. HITECH requires health care providers to provide stronger safeguards for patient data and to notify patients when their information has been breached.
Patient Data Protection Not a Priority?
According to the study, seventy percent of hospitals say that protecting patient data is not a top priority. Most at risk is billing information and medical records which are not being protected. More significantly, there is little or no oversight of the data itself, as patients are the first to detect breaches and end up notifying the health care facility themselves.
The study reports that most health care organizations do not have the staff or the technology to adequately protect their patients’ information. The majority (67 percent) say that they have fewer than two staff members dedicated to data protection management.
And perhaps because of this lack of resources, sixty percent of organizations in the study had more than two data breaches in the past two years, at a cost of almost $2M per organization. The estimated cost per year to our health care systems is over $6B.
This begs the question: Why?
HITECH Rules Fail to Ensure Protection
HITECH encourages health care organizations to move to Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems to help better secure patient data. And, indeed, the majority of those organizations in the studies (89 percent) said they have either fully implemented or planned soon to fully implement EHR. Yet the HITECH regulations to date do not seem to have diminished security breaches at all, and the Ponemon Institute’s study provides a sobering evaluation:
Despite the intent of these rules (HITECH), the majority (71 percent) of respondents do not believe these new federal regulations have significantly changed the management practices of patient records.
Unintentional Actions – The Primary Cause of Breaches
According to the report, the primary causes of data loss or theft were unintentional employee action (52 percent), lost or stolen computing device (41 percent) and third-party mistakes (34 percent).
Indeed, it would seem that – with the use of EHR systems – technologies should be deployed to assist in these unintentional breaches. And while 85 percent believe they do comply with the loose legal privacy requirements of HIPAA, only 10 percent are confident that they are able to protect patient information when used by outsourcers and cloud computing providers. More significantly, only 23 percent of respondents believed they were capable of curtailing physical access to data storage devices and severs.
The study lists 20 commonly used technology methodologies encouraged by HITECH and deployed by these institutions, including firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, monitoring systems, and encryption. The confidence these institutions feel in these technologies are also listed. Firewalls are the top choice for both data breach prevention and compliance with HIPAA. Also popular for accomplishing both are access governance systems and privileged user management. Respondents favor anti-virus and anti-malware for data breach prevention and for compliance with HIPAA they favor encryption for data at rest.
The Value of Encryption
The study points to the value of encryption technologies – for both compliance purposes and for the prevention of unintended disclosure – and this value is perceived as particularly high by those who participated in the study: 72 percent see it as a necessary technology for compliance, even though only 60 percent are currently deploying it for data breach prevention. These identified needs for encryption falls just behind the use of firewalls (78 percent), and the requirements of access governance (73 percent).
Encryption for data-at-rest is one of the key technologies that HITECH specifically identifies: An encrypted file can not be accidentally examined without the appropriate credentials. In addition, some encryption packages, such as Linoma’s Crypto Complete, monitor and record when and by whom data has been examined. These safeguards permit IT security to audit the use of data to ensure that – should a intrusion breach occur – the scope and seriousness of the breach can be assessed quickly and confidently.
So how important is a patient’s privacy? We believe it’s vitally important. And this report from the Ponemon Institute should make good reading to help your organization come to terms with the growing epidemic of security breaches.
Read how Bristol Hospital utilizes GoAnywhere Director to secure sensitive data.