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Survey: Data Breaches Put Fear Into Patients

March 12, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Nearly half (45 percent) of surveyed patients reported that they are at least moderately concerned about a security breach involving their personal health information, according to new research from the Austin, Tx.-based electronic health record (EHR) selection group Software Advice.

When asked to list the reasons behind their level of concern, the highest percentage of respondents (47 percent) said they are concerned about becoming the victim of fraud or identity theft. Coming in a close second was patient worries about maintaining the privacy of their medical history, followed by a lack of trust in technology’s ability to keep their data safe, according to the survey.

As such, 21 percent are withholding personal health information from their doctors. While the majority of the sample (79 percent) said this “rarely or never” happens, it is significant (and unfortunate) that 21 percent of patients withhold personal information from their physicians specifically because they are concerned about a security breach, according to the researchers.

What’s more, only 8 percent of patients “always” read doctors’ privacy and security policies before signing them, and just 10 percent are “very confident” they understand them. Notice of Privacy Practices (NPPs) are written explanations of how a provider may use and share health information, and how patients can exercise their privacy rights.

Additionally, a combined 54 percent of respondents said they would be “very” or “moderately likely” to change providers as a result of their personal health information being accessed without their permission. While 28 percent said there is nothing their provider could do that would convince them to stay, the greatest percentage of respondents (37 percent) would stick with their doctor if they provided specific examples of how the practice’s security policies and procedures had improved after the breach. Many of those same patients (13 percent) specifically said they would want the provider to purchase new software that protects patient data. A breach caused by staff misconduct was reported as the most likely reason for patients to switch providers.

“The results of our survey on patient fears indicate that much work must be done to restore patients’ faith in data security, the researchers concluded. “Practices should strive to create an atmosphere where patients see promise instead of potential risk when it comes to the way healthcare data is handled,” they said.

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