Study: Digitization Creates Privacy Fears

With health records and data almost entirely digitized, American patients report being fearful for the privacy of their health information.

Nearly half of US patients are concerned about the security of their private health information, but the fear isn’t enough to drive them to read their provider’s privacy policies.

A new study by Software Advice, a web-based electronic health record systems consultancy, finds that nearly half of American patients are concerned about the security of their private health information.

The study, which was based on a 13-question survey, found 45% of patients are “significantly concerned” about a data breach involving their protected health information. More than half of respondents (54%) said they were “moderately” or “very” likely to change doctors as a result of a data breach. However, they said they were less likely to leave if the breach were caused by hackers or other external forces, rather than by internal problems, according to Gaby Loria, Electronic Health Record market researcher for Software Advice.

“Since patients surveyed react more negatively to medical staff-related breaches than hacker-related ones, shortcomings in staff management practices drive more patients away than vulnerabilities in digital health care data storage systems,” she said.

Notably, patients also admitted to withholding information from physicians out of concern for data security. More than one-fifth of respondents (21%) said they hold back information.

“The fact that one in five patients withhold information from their doctors due to data security concerns is a big wake up call for the medical industry,” she said. “Twenty-one percent of people are not communicating openly with their physician and, more importantly, risking the quality of their health care.”

The survey found patients’ wariness isn’t due to fear of the technology. Only 10% said they distrusted the technology and only 3% said they had personally been the victim of a data security breach.

Instead, the survey found patients worry about being the victim of fraud (47%) or having their privacy invaded (44%).

With all the concern about privacy, one might expect some patients to look over their physician’s privacy policy with a fine-tooth comb. Not so.

Only 8% of respondents said they “always” read the policies. Another 45% said they “often” or “sometimes” read them. However, 44% said they “rarely or never” read the policies and 3% said they refuse to sign the notices.

This article was originally published in Physicians' Money Digest.