The rise of electronic health records (EHR) has brought about numerous benefits for both patients and caregivers. For patients, EHRs have led to improved health care quality (through increased access to patient information and improved support in making health decisions), increased participation in the healthcare process (through higher accuracy and availability), easier access to personal health records (as they are electronic in nature), and more accurate diagnostics and positive health outcomes (through computational analysis of various healthcare factors and ability to personalize treatment). In addition, patients are saved valuable time at their doctor’s visits, since their medical information can be accessed much quicker than before.
For healthcare providers, EHRs make tracking a patient’s complete medical history easier. This is especially helpful when one patient has to see multiple doctors to receive care. EHRs reduce mishaps such as lost or inaccurate records. They also come with notable ancillary benefits like reduced paperwork and storage, increased efficiency and productivity, and better communication with patients about their health and wellness. Indeed, a national survey reported that 88% of doctors that use EHRs find them to be beneficial to their practices. With all of these benefits, it’d be hard to imagine any downside to the use of electronic information in healthcare data management.
Downside of Electronic Health Records
The downside does exist, however, in the form of privacy and security concerns. It’s no secret that there are cyber criminals around, and as with any digital information, that the threat of having data stolen is all too real. The theft of confidential medical records could lead to potentially disastrous results for an individual: identity theft, ruined finances and credit reputation, and the immense stress of having personal details leaked without one’s permission. Patients are wary of having their personal details stolen, and perhaps with good reason. Data breaches in healthcare organizations are continuing to happen, with one study even suggesting that almost 90% of healthcare organizations have been victims of data breaches within the last two years. It makes sense. The value of vast amounts of personal data cannot be overstated for a savvy criminal. Data breaches cost the healthcare industry $6 billion annually.
What’s more shocking is that internet hackers utilizing web-borne malware are not the only privacy fear. Healthcare workers themselves can abuse their positions to steal patient data (which in electronic form is much easier to take in bulk) and sell it off to the highest bidder. If patients cannot trust that their information will be safe, the consequences are dire to maintaining an accurate system of healthcare records. Patients may be more prone to give false information if about themselves if they feel there is a risk that data could be breached. They might even go so far as to not disclose any information about themselves or actively avoid care altogether out of fear. The risk to public health should be obvious, and numbers bear this out, with the Department of Health and Human Services estimating millions of Americans have avoided seeking help for treatable forms of cancer, mental illness and STDs, all over privacy concerns.
EHR Privacy, Security and Trust
It’s amazing to think that in spite of the obvious dangers, many healthcare organizations and consultants remain unprepared, with upwards of 60% of organizations unconcerned about updating their privacy and security procedures.
These constant threats and challenges, however, further underscore the need for reputable healthcare data management companies who provide high-level security within their data reporting and business analytics programs. Syntrix Consulting is one such group able to ensure data security in their Epic reporting/consulting solutions and health data management by implementing more than just flawed anti-virus software. They adhere to industry-wide standards in privacy rules, and utilize effective technical controls (anti-malware, data loss prevention software, two-factor authentication, patch management, disc encryption, as well as logging and monitoring software), through operational controls including security assessments, incident response plans, user awareness and training, information classifications, and more.
The best consulting groups are also able to detect attempted breaches by outside actors, audit individual users of their software and workstations, utilize encryption to disguise data within medical files and employ specific device and media controls to inhibit the accidental leak of private data through reused or reprocessed hardware. It seems like a lot, but the shifting healthcare cybersecurity landscape needs stringent controls to enable the highest level of user confidence possible.