5 Differentiating factors of a healthcare breach

Published: April 10, 2012 by bkrenek

Data breaches occur in every industry, but, in healthcare, they’re a whole different ballgame. Black market prices and mobile devices drive data theft and loss. Federal regulations govern breach reporting.
With breaches of medical records increasing 97% from 2010 to 2011, the medical field has been especially hard hit. Here’s a look at five factors that make breaches in this one industry so cumbersome, dangerous and difficult to deter.

1. Heavy regulations
While various state laws govern many breaches, a healthcare breach falls under federal law—both for providers and their business associates. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996 to govern PHI management. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 further enforced it. HITECH’s tiered system of fines can cost a company as much as $1.5 million for mishandling a breach.

2. Black market premium
By many estimates, a medical record sells for $50 on the black market, compared to just $1 for a Social Security number (SSN), according to a GovTech.com article. A single breach can be highly lucrative with an average of 49,000 records impacted per incident. This profitability makes it all the more difficult to deter medical breaches and protected health information (PHI) fraud stemming from both internal and external threats.

3. Substantial harm to patients
Ninety percent of healthcare organizations in a recent study agreed that breaches cause patients harm. One example of this is medical identity theft. Another study found that resolving medical identity theft costs victims $20,663, an extrapolated average. Patients with breached PHI may face even worse. They could lose their medical insurance altogether, due to abuse of their benefits by an imposter. And that imposter’s health conditions, blood type, allergies and prescriptions could end up being part of the victim’s medical file. That misinformation could lead to improper medical care, potentially resulting in a life-threatening situation for the victim.

4. High volume of breaches
According to data from the Identity Theft Resource Center, the overall volume of breached records increased 35% from 2010 to 2011. Yet, according to HHS data, the volume of breached PHI records increased 97% in the same timeframe. In fact, three of the top six breaches of 2011 were in healthcare, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The numbers point to an industry in crisis. Ninety-six percent of providers in a recent study have experienced at least one breach in the past two years.

5. Unprepared entities
The increase in medical breaches comes at a time when entities are updating their offices with both electronic health records (EHR) and mobile devices. Many are doing so without putting the proper security measures and access controls in place first. In a recent study, 81% of healthcare entities reported using mobile devices to “collect, store and/or transmit” PHI but 49% haven’t implemented any protection measures for the devices.

With so many different factors at play in healthcare breaches, the sector will continue to be an interesting one to watch. As the HHS promotes greater transferability of EHR, the road ahead may become even rockier.

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