Why patients should not fear EHRs

Electronic health records are responsible for improvements in the quality of patient care due to their ability to collect, correlate and share information. However, many Americans have concerns over security. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association and conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Dartmouth College found that 13 percent of survey respondents reported that they withheld information from their provider due to privacy and security concerns.

The researchers analyzed the results of the 2012 Health Information National Trends Survey using bivariate and multivariable logit regressions. After accounting for global rating of care, the findings suggested that patients refused to disclose health information to protect themselves against the perceived risks associated with EHR privacy and security.

Digital vs. physical
A common belief among patients and physicians is that EHRs are more susceptible to data breaches than paper records. Mansur Hasib, D.Sc., C.I.S.S.P., chief information officer at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, wrote an article for InformationWeek regarding the security of EHRs. He stated that paper records are far less secure than their electronic counterparts. Paper records have no way to identify who viewed them for how long or if the person had authorization or not. Additionally, the information stored on paper is not encrypted or stored in various locations to ensure that data is not lost due to disaster.

What are hackers stealing EHRs for?
Generally, when an EHR system is hacked, large amount of records are stolen. Boston.com reported that a data breach at Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island affected 12,000 patients. Whoever accessed the information has not done anything with it yet, and this was in 2012. The frightening part about these breaches is that no one knows why data was accessed. It can be safe to say, however, that the attackers were not looking for information on how many glasses of wine a patient consumes each week. By withholding health data from physicians, patients are only hurting themselves.

The JAMIA study's researchers suggested that clinicians should discuss EHR privacy concerns during visits and detail the benefits of collecting all health information on EHRs. Policy makers should also consider patients' perceived security risks when creating legislation and guidelines. The fear of data breaches is based on the fact that they occur, but health data is of little use to criminals.