Patient data breaches are surging as mobile device use increases among healthcare personnel, underscoring a need for greater privacy protection.
According to the Ponemon Institute, data breaches in healthcare rose more than 30 percent this year, with 96 percent of healthcare organizations reporting at least one breach involving patient information over the past two years.
The rise in medical data breaches parallels the increase in mobile device use in healthcare, becoming one of the industry’s biggest challenges as more hospitals and physicians’ offices digitize patient records.
As part of a 2009 stimulus bill, the U.S. government pays incentives to doctors and hospitals that adopt electronic health records. As a result, more than half of office-based physicians now use digitized records and the number is steadily growing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Electronic medical records are a treasure trove of personal information, including full name, Social Security number, birth date, insurance information and personal health details, making them a prime target for hacking and theft.
As more patient data goes electronic and resides on a mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop, hackers can use one of these gadgets to access digital storage systems. One stolen or misplaced device can cause a serious data breach, potentially compromising thousands of patients’ personal information and costing the healthcare organization millions of dollars.
Hospitals and physicians are likely to search for better ways to bridge the gap between security practices and mobile use. More than 80 percent of physicians now use a smartphone, according to Manhattan Research, to perform more patient-focused activities, such as communicating with patients via text messages, checking EKG or other test results and sending patient alerts and reminders.
Security safeguards reportedly lag behind mobile adoption, however, and the majority of devices used by physicians are unencrypted and unsecured.
If healthcare organizations curtail mobile usage or institute encryption programs that only support some devices but not others, both doctors and patients risk losing out on the convenience and enhanced communication mobile gadgets bring to the healthcare process. Still, such a move provides greater protection of patient data.
The need for greater privacy protection is an opportunity for third-party companies to develop and sell encryption programs and other solutions for the healthcare field, much like the ones they already offer to consumers. Physicians are expected to be required to encrypt devices in greater numbers, providing a market for security apps and programs to secure a wide range of operating systems and types of gadgets.
Hospitals, consulting firms, insurers and other big organizations that handle patient information are also expected to increase privacy protection, providing an emerging market for enterprise-class, healthcare-specific device security.
As more sensitive patient data enters the digital realm and is shared on proliferating mobile devices in healthcare, new security and privacy solutions are sure to follow.
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