Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 05, 2011

Healthcare Technology and News: Hard-to-Use Software Causing Data Leaks from Confidential Health Records: Dartmouth Study

Software that is difficult to use is a top culprit for much of the leakage of health data – creating privacy and security concerns about confidential medical records, according to a new study by Dartmouth business researchers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the reason why difficult-to-use software is responsible for leakage is because people using the weak proprietary software find ways around it, such as “word-processing and spreadsheet tools.” These aren’t very secure, and many times files are downloaded onto home computers, says The Journal.

M. Eric Johnson, director of Dartmouth’s Tuck business school's Center for Digital Strategies, and his colleagues monitored peer-to-peer networks that are used to share various types of files, The Journal reports.

In just two weeks during 2009, the researchers found over 200 files containing information that included such confidential items as: names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and insurance numbers, according to The Journal.

In addition, the researchers point out in their study that consumers of health care are increasingly concerned about their privacy.

There has been “increasing reliance on web-based systems for managing health information and the deployment of personal health banks.”

In addition, government mandates, such as the HIPAA Act, are criticized for their “lack of clarity.” There are currently “low levels of full compliance among hospitals.”

The researchers also point out that in the past five years the health care sector has seen “significant growth in use of mobile devices and web-based applications.”

With growing use of digitized versions of health records, medical identity theft has become a large issue, say the researchers.   

Security lapses may end up causing financial losses to patients, health care providers and payers, the study says. It also adds that the sale of medical identities to illegal immigrants and fraudulent billing could lead to errors in health records and lead to patient harm.

In addition, the growing use of cloud computing may actually help reduce the risks in the health care sector because of improved software, Johnson told The Journal.

But he said that bill collectors and labs are sharing “much more information about patients than they need to conduct business.”

In a related matter, HealthTechZone reported recently that electronic medical records were once seen as a panacea to increase patient safety and ensure better treatment. There were errors with medical records recorded with pen and paper. However, errors continued as patient records are recorded electronically.

A government panel is reviewing the use of electronic medical records and is trying to come up with a list of recommendations to improve patient safety. The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Patient Safety and Health Information Technology was to hold its first meeting in December.

Ed Silverstein is a HealthTechZone contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

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