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Survey: Patients Gaining Trust in Privacy, Security of Electronic Medical Records

February 19, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Patients appear to be gaining trust in the privacy and security of electronic health records (EHRs) and three-quarters of patients support their healthcare providers’ use of EHRs despite any privacy or security concerns, according to a data brief published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

The data brief presents the results of ONC’s nationwide survey of consumers conducted between 2012 and 2014 to examine privacy and security concerns as well as individuals’ preferences regarding EHRs and health information exchange.

“As EHR adoption and health information exchange (HIE) increased among hospitals and physicians, consumers' concerns regarding HIE and the privacy and security of medical records declined,” the data brief stated, adding that patient trust in the privacy and security of health information is considered foundational to the development of an interoperable health IT infrastructure.

According to the survey results, in 2014, a little over half of individuals had concerns regarding the privacy and security of their medical records, and about half expressed concerns regarding unauthorized viewing of their medical records when sent electronically or by fax.

This represents a significant decrease from the prior year, as 75 percent of individuals in 2013 expressed concerns about privacy and security with regard to their medical records.  

And individuals' privacy and security concerns regarding their medical records did not differ by whether individuals had paper versus electronic medical records, according to the ONC survey results.

Between 2013 and 2014, the proportion of individuals who expressed no concerns about the privacy or security of their medical records increased significantly. In 2014, 23 percent of survey respondents were not concerned at all about the privacy of their medical records, up from 16 percent in 2013. And, the proportion of individuals who expressed no concerns about the security of their medical records almost doubled between 2013 and 2014, from 11 percent to 19 percent.

And the survey found that between 2012 and 2014, individuals expressed high levels of support for providers using EHRs and engaging in HIE for treatment purposes despite any potential privacy or security concerns. “Individuals' high level of support for EHRs and HIE may be related to their belief that their health care providers were already taking the steps necessary to protect their medical records. Between 2012 and 2014, 80 percent or more of individuals believed health care providers had measures in place to reasonably protect EHRs,” the ONC data brief stated.

And, the survey found that individuals’ concerns regarding unauthorized viewing of medical records when sent by fax or electronic means declined significantly, from 61 percent in 2013 to 50 percent in 2014.

However, the ONC data brief noted that these perceptions reflect individuals' points of view prior to reports of several large healthcare information breaches in 2015. “Whether these recent breaches may negatively impact individuals' perceptions related to the privacy and security of their medical records and exchange of their health information is unclear and warrants monitoring. Additionally, it is unclear as to whether the significant decreases in concerns between 2013 and 2014 are an anomaly or whether this represents the beginning of a trend towards decreasing privacy and security concerns,” the data brief stated.

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