News Feature | March 21, 2016

Data Breaches Cause Patients To Withhold Information

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Ease Patient Sharing Information

Any of your clients who work directly with patients are concerned with making the patient experience as positive as possible. One reason for this is that a happy patient is a more compliant and open patient, and that leads to better clinical results. In an era of value-based care, these results are tied directly to the long-term viability of your client organizations.

A recent study presented by We Live Security has found the threat to patient openness is possibly greater than expected, and that the issue is largely due to patient perceptions of data breaches.

Patient Perception

It’s only reasonable to assume that in a time of overall heightened awareness around identity theft, patients would be more aware of the risks associated with the security of their electronic health records (EHRs).

Of the patients surveyed, over 13 percent admitted to withholding information from their provider due to concerns around the privacy and security of their medical records. That number is significant not only because it is likely that the information being withheld has an impact on treatment decisions, but also because it is higher than previous reports have indicated.

For example, a 2012 report from ONC reported the numbers to be between 5 and 8 percent. This increase could easily be due to the recent onslaught of highly-publicized breaches in the healthcare sector. Here’s an overview of what 2015 breaches looked like:

  • 253 breaches affecting 500 or more individuals

  • 112 million records lost

  • the top 10 breaches accounted for just over 111 million records lost, stolen, or inappropriately disclosed

  • the top six affected at least one million people

  • four of those six were BCBS organizations

Regional Variations

The survey found variations across its 750 adult American participants. People living in the West were most likely to withhold information (18.5 percent) along with those age 55-64 (15.9 percent.) People over 65 and living in the Midwest were the most open with their information, with only 6.7 percent and 7.6 percent withholding respectively. Those in rural and suburban settings were more trusting than urban-dwellers and the same went for people earning between $25K and $74K.

Senior security researcher, Stephen Cobb explained more about the implications of his findings saying, “Given the potential for patient withholding to undermine diagnosis and treatment, not to mention medical research, I think many folks will find these numbers worrying. For health IT managers, these numbers suggest that better information security could lead to better health outcomes by reassuring people that their medical secrets are safe from prying eyes. Conversely, what we are seeing could be an additional and potentially serious downside to poor medical data security, in addition to the many others (which range from reputational damage to life threatening medical errors and medical identity theft).”