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Health Data Privacy Concerns Key Influence in PHI Data Sharing

A study found that health data privacy concerns, patient activation, and patient-physician relationships can all impact PHI data sharing.

health data privacy concern affects phi data sharing

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth Snell

- Patients might be more willing to participate in PHI data sharing when their health data privacy concerns have been properly addressed, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Providers must understand how they can best represent patients’ interests with regard to data sharing, explained the research team from California State University Long Beach and University at Buffalo.

“Overall, this study found that although patients are open to sharing their PHI, they still have concerns over the privacy of their PHI during the sharing process,” the research team wrote. “It is paramount to address this factor to increase information flow and identify how patients can assure that their privacy is protected.”

Researchers reviewed over 1,600 patient responses to the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS). Responses discussed security concerns, patient activation, patient-provider relationships, and issue involvement, which is how relevant a specific issue is to the patient.  

Privacy concerns were the leading influence in whether or not a patient was willing to share data, the study showed. The patient-physician relationship was found to have the highest positive significant magnitude. Essentially, providers should work to spend enough time with patients and involve patients in the decision making process.

HIE is a new technology, and the risk of information breaches and privacy issues are not understood by the patients yet, especially when there is a lack of education,” the research team said. “Moreover, when security breaches occur, patients are not compensated for their losses, which makes sharing of high privacy and security a risk.” 

Patients may be more likely to participate in their own health, and data sharing, when they understand the process better.

Researchers also noted that trust in providers showed no significant relationship with the intention to share PHI.

Both patient education and physician education are “crucial to generate a perceived technological safe environment for sharing PHI electronically,” the research team maintained.

“Physicians who are aware of the dimensions of the patient-physician relationship can improve the said relationship, leaving the patient more prone to PHI sharing, achieving better medical decisions, reduction in medical errors, and cost benefits,” the researchers concluded.

ONC has also stressed the need for improved patient data access measures, as this will reduce consumer burden and help entities coordinate better care.

The agency explained in a report released earlier in 2017 that HIPAA regulations let patients request access to their own health data. Even so, patients and caregivers still face challenges in accessing necessary information.

“In the current records request process, patients and health systems are often at odds, as each struggles through an inefficient system to accomplish needed tasks with limited resources,” report authors wrote. “But ultimately, these two user groups have the same goals — and shared needs. That means that improving the records request process is a win-win.”

ONC suggested the following for a streamlined and improved patient data access process:

  • Allowing patients to easily request and receive their records from their patient portal
  • Setting up an electronic records request system outside of the patient portal
  • Creating a user-friendly, plain language online request process
  • Using e-verification to quickly confirm the record requestor’s identity
  • Including a status bar or progress tracker so consumers can see where they are in the request process
  • Making sure consumers know that they can request their record in different formats
  • Providing user friendly, plain language instructions for patients and caregivers on how to request health records, what to expect, and who to contact with questions
  • Encouraging patients to use patient portals by promoting features like online appointment scheduling, secure messaging, and prescription refills   

When both patients and providers understand the patient data access process, and how PHI can be shared between providers, it will be much easier to ensure proper patient care. 

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