EMR Data and Privacy

Posted on November 21, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

From MinnPost.com, a post on Sen. Al Franken’s second hearing as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. Franken’s take was that federal agencies tasked with enforcing digital privacy are not doing so. While we might be aware on some subliminal level about the lack of enforcement, when presented in sheer numbers, the statistics are shocking.

According to the MinnPost article:

“Total, there have been 364 “major breaches” of 18 million patient’s private data since 2009, Franken said. Meanwhile, enforcement of data privacy laws have been lax — out of the 22,500 complaints the Health and Human Services Department has received since 2003, it’s levied only one fine and reached monetary settlements in six others. Of the 495 cases referred to the Department of Justice, only 16 have been prosecuted.”

Here on the HHS website, you can see all the breaches affecting 500 or more people (sort by Breach Date to see recent breaches). Even with all the rules around reporting, effectively, given the lack of enforcement, hospitals and care organizations stand to gain the most in this lax enforcement landscape. I’d be curious to know the process of fining and reaching settlements, whether it is proportional to the amount of data stolen/lost. More importantly, I’d like to know what organizations are doing differently if data thefts have been identified – the worst thing for an organization would be to pay the fine, and continue with the same faulty processes that led the breach in the first place.