Balancing Privacy and Security with Patient Care

Posted on December 23, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Healthcare InformationWeek has an article that discusses the challenges of EMR security and privacy. A lot of the stuff is nothing new to those of us in the healthcare space. Although, it’s interesting to see how they summarize things like the goal to be full EMR by 2014 and the EMR stimulus money.

However, the article did include these interesting stats on the number of breaches that happen in healthcare and the focus IT managers put on privacy and data security in healthcare.

Healthcare providers and other health businesses aren’t stepping up to protect privacy, according to a recent study. Some 80% of healthcare organizations have experienced at least one incident of lost or stolen health information in the past year, according to the study, released this month from security management company LogLogic and the Ponemon Institute, which conducts privacy and information management research.

Also, some 70% of IT managers surveyed said senior management doesn’t view privacy and data security as a priority, and 53% say their organizations don’t take appropriate steps to protect patient privacy. Less than half judge their existing security measures as “effective or very effective.”

I was surprised that 80% of organizations have had an incident of lost or stolen health information. However, I honestly don’t see this ever changing. Stuff happens even with the very best efforts.

I did also like this quote of John Halamka about the challenge of balancing privacy and security with sharing the patient information to provide better patient care.

“You want to protect the patient’s preferences for confidentiality,” Halamka said. But you also need to get information where it’s needed. “If you come to the emergency department in a coma, and you have a record that includes psychiatric treatment, HIV, drug abuse, and other information, would you share part of it or all of it? My preference would be all of it, with the hope that emergency workers would use it discreetly, to save my life.” But other people may feel differently, Halamka said, and healthcare policy needs to serve all those needs.

I’m a little surprised that Halamka has had psychiatric treatment, HIV and drug abuse. He’s doing quite well considering that history. (that’s sarcasm in case you didn’t note it) His history aside, I’m totally with him on wanting that information available as well. However, he’s totally correct that many people wouldn’t want that stuff shared. Enabling the consumer to make that decision though is a hard nut to crack.