Healthcare Information Security

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Nearly Half of Surveyed Patients Worried Over PHI Security

A recent survey showed that PHI security is a key concern for many patients, with individuals preferring secure electronic data sharing options.

PHI security key concern for consumers, prefer secure electronic communications

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth Snell

- With the majority of healthcare data breaches in 2016 stemming from either a hacking or IT-related incident or unauthorized access or disclosure, it should not be a surprise that more patients are concerned with their PHI security.

The 2017 Xerox eHealth Survey found that 44 percent of US adults are worried that their healthcare information may be stolen. Furthermore, 76 percent reported that they found secure electronic sharing methods to be a better option than faxing paper documents.

An online Harris Poll in January 2017 interviewed more than 3,000 adults ages 18 and older for the Xerox report.

“It’s clear patients are frustrated by the lack of care coordination and disjointed processes, so much so, that our Xerox survey shows 19 percent of Americans would rather wait in line at the DMV than coordinate between different doctors’ offices to ensure they have all of their records and health information,” Xerox Healthcare Industry Senior Vice President Cees Van Doorn said in a statement.

Respondents did admit that improved information sharing between providers could be beneficial to patient care. Specifically, 87 percent said that providers being able to securely share and access digital patient data could decrease their wait times to receive test results and diagnoses.

Earlier this year, a Black Book survey also showed that patients were hesitant over information sharing because of PHI security concerns.

Eighty-nine percent of patients said they withheld information from their providers in 2016, with 93 percent saying it was because of financial data security concerns.

Over half of consumers – 57 percent - who had experience with either a hospital, physician or ancillary provider's technology in 2016 said that they were skeptical of the potential benefits to certain technologies. Patients were often hesitant because of data hacking and a perceived lack of privacy, the survey found.

This concern over PHI falling into the wrong hands could even affect how much information individuals are willing to give their providers.

Eighty-seven percent of Black Book respondents were unwilling to divulge all their medical information in Q4 2016. Consumers stated they were nervous about their digital health information being shared beyond their physician and hospital.

However, both the Black Book and Xerox surveys were in contrast with recent research from the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Researchers took data from the 2011 and 2014 cycles of the Health Information and National Trends Survey (HINTS) and investigated whether individuals were likely to withhold personal information due to privacy or security concerns, as well as quality perceptions.

The results showed that there was no difference found with the effect of privacy and security concerns on withholding behavior between 2011 and 2014.

“No effect of concerns regarding unauthorized access to electronic medical information on withholding behavior in either year was observed, and no difference in this effect between years was found,” the report’s authors wrote. “While concerns about unauthorized access to faxed medical information on withholding behavior was found to be significant in both 2011 and 2014, no difference in this effect was found between years.”

Researchers maintained that strong communication between provider and patient could also ensure that there are fewer PHI security concerns. When the public perceives their medical records as secure, it will fuel stronger provider communications and also support “adoption and use of electronic modes of health communication made available by new technologies.”

“Our findings suggested that improving quality can buffer privacy and security concerns,” researchers explained. “While technological safeguards to protect patient health information remains important, health professionals should not forget that individual relationships remain the foundation of the patient’s experience with the health care system.”

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