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Healthcare Data Breach Costs Remain Highest at $408 Per Record

July 13, 2018
by Heather Landi
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The global average cost of a data breach is up 6.4 percent over the previous year to $3.86 million
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The cost of a data breach for healthcare organizations continues to rise, from $380 per record last year to $408 per record this year, as the healthcare industry also continues to incur the highest cost for data breaches compared to any other industry, according to a new study from IBM Security and the Ponemon Institute.

The global average cost of a data breach is up 6.4 percent over the previous year to $3.86 million, according to the 2018 Cost of a Data Breach study. The average cost for each lost or stolen record containing sensitive and confidential information, globally and across all industries, also increased by 4.8 percent year over year to $148. And, the 2018 cost of a data breach compares to $3.50 million in 2014, representing nearly a 10 percent net increase over the past five years of the study.

For the eighth year in a row, healthcare organizations had the highest costs associated with data breaches – costing them $408 per lost or stolen record – nearly three times higher than the cross-industry average ($148). The next highest industry was financial services with an average of $206 per lost or stolen record. You can read about last year's study here.

The 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study, sponsored by IBM Security and conducted by the Ponemon Institute, is based on a survey of more than 2,200 IT, data, protection and compliance professionals from 477 companies in 15 countries. For the first time, this year the study also calculated the costs associated with "mega breaches" ranging from 1 million to 50 million records lost, projecting that these breaches cost companies between $40 million and $350 million respectively.

"While highly publicized data breaches often report losses in the millions, these numbers are highly variable and often focused on a few specific costs which are easily quantified," Wendi Whitmore, Global Lead for IBM X-Force Incident Response and Intelligence Services (IRIS, said in a statement. "The truth is there are many hidden expenses which must be taken into account, such as reputational damage, customer turnover, and operational costs. Knowing where the costs lie, and how to reduce them, can help companies invest their resources more strategically and lower the huge financial risks at stake."

The study looks at abnormal churn rates among industries, or the greater than expected loss of customers following a data breach incident. The healthcare industry had the highest abnormal churn rate among 17 industries, at 6.7 percent, compared to the average of 3.4 percent. The report notes that customers have high expectations for the protection of their data in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and financial services. When these organizations have a data breach, customers’ trust will decline and they will try to find a substitute, the report states.

The study also compared the cost of data breaches in different regions, finding that data breaches are the costliest in the U.S. and the Middle East, and least costly in Brazil and India.  U.S. companies experienced the highest average cost of a breach at $7.91 million, followed by the Middle East at $5.31 million. The lowest total cost of a breach was $1.24 million in Brazil, followed by $1.77 million in India.

One major factor impacting the cost of a data breach in the U.S. was the reported cost of lost business, which was $4.2 million—more than the total average cost of a breach globally, and more than double the amount of "lost business costs" compared to any other region surveyed, according to the study. One major factor impacting lost business costs is customer turnover in the aftermath of a breach; in fact a recent IBM / Harris poll report found that 75 percent of consumers in the U.S. say that they will not do business with companies that they do not trust to protect their data.

In the past five years, the amount of mega breaches (breaches of more than 1 million records) has nearly doubled—from just nine mega breaches in 2013, to 16 mega breaches in 2017. Based on analysis of 11 companies experiencing a mega breach over the past two years, this year's report used statistical modelling to project the cost of breaches ranging from 1 million to 50 million compromised records.  Key findings include that the average cost of a data breach of 1 million compromised records is nearly $40 million dollars. At 50 million records, the estimated total cost of a breach is $350 million dollars.

What’s more, the vast majority of these breaches (10 out of 11) stemmed from malicious and criminal attacks (as opposed to system glitches or human error). And, the average time to detect and contain a mega breach was 365 days—almost 100 days longer than a smaller scale breach (266 days).

For mega breaches, the biggest expense category was costs associated with lost business, which was estimated at nearly $118 million for breaches of 50 million records—almost a third of the total cost of a breach this size.

The study also examines factors which increase or decrease the cost of the breach, finding that costs are heavily impacted by the amount of time spent containing a data breach, as well as investments in technologies that speed response time. The average time to identify a data breach in the study was 197 days, and the average time to contain a data breach once identified was 69 days. Companies who contained a breach in less than 30 days saved over $1 million compared to those that took more than 30 days ($3.09 million vs. $4.25 million average total).

The amount of lost or stolen records also impacts the cost of a breach, costing $148 per lost or stolen record on average. The study examined several factors which increase or decrease this cost and found that having an incident response team was the top cost saving factor, reducing the cost by $14 per compromised record. The use of an AI platform for cybersecurity reduced the cost by $8 per lost or stolen record, according to the study, and companies that indicated a "rush to notify" had a higher cost by $5 per lost or stolen record.

The report also examined the effect of security automation tools which use artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics and orchestration to augment or replace human intervention in the identification and containment of a breach. The analysis found that organizations that had extensively deployed automated security technologies saved over $1.5 million on the total cost of a breach ($2.88 million, compared to $4.43 million for those who had not deployed security automation).

"The goal of our research is to demonstrate the value of good data protection practices, and the factors that make a tangible difference in what a company pays to resolve a data breach," Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of Ponemon Institute, said in a statement. "While data breach costs have been rising steadily over the history of the study, we see positive signs of cost savings through the use of newer technologies as well as proper planning for incident response, which can significantly reduce these costs."

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Healthcare’s “RegTech” Opportunity: Avoiding a 2008-Style Crisis

September 21, 2018
by Robert Lord, Industry Voice, Co-Founder and President of Protenus
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In the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, the financial industry suffered a crisis of trust. A decade later, banks and other financial institutions are still working to regain the confidence of consumers and regulators alike. In 2008 and 2009, while working at one of the world’s top hedge funds, I had a front-row seat to the damage that occurred to our economy, watching as storied corporate institutions fell or were gravely damaged. Today, as co-founder of a health technology company, I see healthcare is approaching a similarly dangerous situation. We must get ahead of the curve to avoid disaster.

Like finance, healthcare is a highly-regulated industry where non-compliance can result in severe financial and reputational consequences for healthcare companies, and severe impact on people’s lives. We deal with HIPAA, MACRA, HITECH, and hundreds of other foreboding acronyms on a daily basis. A lot of attention goes to the terrific and important work of clinical decision support, wellness apps, and other patient care technologies, but problems in the back office of hospitals must be addressed as well. One of these problems is the amount and complexity of healthcare regulation, and our healthcare system’s inability to keep up.

In finance, where I spent the early part of my career, the adoption of what is termed “RegTech” (regulatory technology) was driven by the increasing complexity of financial technology and infrastructure sophistication.  As trades moved faster, and as algorithms, processes and organizations became more complex, the technologies needed to ensure regulatory compliance had to move in tandem.  The crisis we experienced in 2008 was partially the result of the inability of the industry’s regulatory capabilities to keep up with the pace of technological change.  In many ways, the industry is still playing a catch-up game.

As healthcare professionals, looking to the lessons learned by our colleagues in finance can help us predict patterns and stay ahead of the curve. Right now, I’m seeing alarming parallels to challenges faced in finance a decade ago.

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Robert Lord

The burden of regulation across our industry is simply staggering.  Thirty-nine billion dollars of regulatory burden is associated with healthcare annually, which is about $1,200 per patient, per year. Despite this high cost, we still have $1 trillion of fraud, waste and abuse in our healthcare system. With so much regulation, why are we seeing so little yield from that burden? In many cases, it’s because we’re merely checking boxes and not addressing core risks؅. Like finance, there was a great deal of effort on compliance with regulations, but not enough attention on addressing important systemic risks.

This is not to say I am against good regulation; in fact, many regulations serve to protect patients and improve care. The problem is that there are so many demands on healthcare systems, that compliance and regulation is often reduced to checking boxes to ensure that minimum defensible processes are built, and occasionally spot-checking that things look reasonable. We currently have nowhere near 100 percent review of activities and transactions that are occurring in our health systems every day, though our patients deserve nothing less. However, unless overburdened and under-resourced healthcare providers and compliance professionals can achieve leverage and true risk reduction, we’ll never be able to sustainably bend our compliance cost curve.

Systemic problems are often not discovered until something goes horribly wrong (e.g., Wall Street every decade or so, the Anthem data breach, etc.). Today In the financial industry, RegTech provides continual, dynamic views of compliance or non-compliance and allows management, compliance professionals and regulators to check compliance in real-time. They can view every record, understand every detail, and automate investigations and processes that would otherwise go undetected or involve lengthy and labor-intensive reviews.

The real promise of these new capabilities is to allow compliance professionals and regulators to perform the truest form of their jobs, which is to keep patient data secure, ensuring the best treatment for patients, and creating sustainable financial models for healthcare delivery. RegTech will open up lines of communication and help create conversations that could never have been had before—conversations about what’s not just feasible for a person to do, but what’s right to do for the people whom regulation seeks to protect.

No longer bound by limited resources that lead to “box-checking,” compliance officers can use new and powerful tools to ensure that the data entrusted to them is protected. At the same time, healthcare management executives can be confident that the enterprises they manage will be well served by risk reducing technological innovation.  Patients, the ultimate beneficiaries of healthcare RegTech, deserve as much.

Robert Lord is the co-founder and president of Protenus, a compliance analytics platform that detects anomalous behavior in health systems.  He also serves as a Cybersecurity Policy Fellow at New America.

 


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HIPAA Settlements: Three Boston Hospitals Pay $1M in Fines for “Boston Trauma” Filming

September 20, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Three Boston hospitals that allowed film crews to film an ABC documentary on premises have settled with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.

According to OCR, the three hospitals—Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)—compromised the privacy of patients’ protected health information (PHI) by inviting film crews on premises to film "Save My Life: Boston Trauma," an ABC television network documentary series, without first obtaining authorization from patients.

OCR reached separate settlements with the three hospitals, and, collectively, the three entities paid OCR $999,000 to settle potential HIPAA violations due to the unauthorized disclosure of patients’ PHI.

“Patients in hospitals expect to encounter doctors and nurses when getting treatment, not film crews recording them at their most private and vulnerable moments,” Roger Severino, OCR director, said in a statement. “Hospitals must get authorization from patients before allowing strangers to have access to patients and their medical information.”

Of the total fines, BMC paid OCR $100,000, BWH paid $384,000, and MGH paid $515,000. Each entity will provide workforce training as part of a corrective action plan that will include OCR’s guidance on disclosures to film and media, according to OCR. Boston Medical Center's resolution agreement can be accessed here; Brigham and Women’s Hospital's resolution agreement can be found here; and Massachusetts General Hospital's agreement can be found here.

This is actually the second time a hospital has been fined by OCR as the result of allowing a film crew on premise to film a TV series, with the first HIPAA fine also involving the filming of an ABC medical documentary television series. As reported by Healthcare Informatics, In April 2016, New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle potential HIPAA violations in association with the filming of “NY Med.”

According to OCR announcement about the settlement with NYP, the hospital, based in Manhattan, violated HIPAA rules for the “egregious disclosure of two patients’ PHI to film crews and staff during the filming of 'NY Med,' an ABC television series.” OCR also stated the NYP did not first obtain authorization from the patients. “In particular, OCR found that NYP allowed the ABC crew to film someone who was dying and another person in significant distress, even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop.”

The OCR director at the time, Jocelyn Samuels, said in a statement, “This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization. We take seriously all complaints filed by individuals, and will seek the necessary remedies to ensure that patients’ privacy is fully protected.” 

OCR’s guidance on disclosures to film and media can be found here.

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Independence Blue Cross Notifies 17K Patients of Breach

September 19, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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The Philadelphia-based health insurer Independence Blue Cross is notifying about 17,000 of its members that some of their protected health information (PHI) has been exposed online and has potentially been accessed by unauthorized individuals.

According to an article in HIPAA Journal, Independence Blue Cross said that its privacy office was informed about the exposed information on July 19 and then immediately launched an investigation.

The insurer said that an employee had uploaded a file containing plan members’ protected health information to a public-facing website on April 23. The file remained accessible until July 20 when it was removed from the website.

According to the report, the information contained in the file was limited, and no financial information or Social Security numbers were exposed. Affected plan members only had their name, diagnosis codes, provider information, date of birth, and information used for processing claims exposed, HIPAA Journal reported.

The investigators were not able to determine whether any unauthorized individuals accessed the file during the time it was on the website, and no reports have been received to date to suggest any protected health information has been misused.

A statement from the health insurer noted that the breach affects certain Independence Blue Cross members and members of its subsidiaries AmeriHealth HMO and AmeriHealth Insurance Co. of New Jersey. Fewer than 1 percent of total plan members were affected by the breach.

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