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New healthcare businesses face challenges in handling electronic health records

Posted by: Brian O'Connell on July 20, 2011 Source: Kauffman Foundation

There’s been a steady rush of new studies on a topic that hits home to healthcare consumers – and should hit home to healthcare entrepreneurs.

The topic is electronic health records and the data shows that consumers are clearly worried about the safety and security of those records.

In February 2011, a CDW Healthcare survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers showed a “broad cross-section of the American public who were uneasy about the potential security problems associated with the move from paper to electronic records.”

CDW reports that patients are concerned their health records will wind up with cyber thieves, who in turn will use the data to steal consumer identities. Consumers are also wary of their employers getting their hands on personal health records; they fear that companies will make hiring and firing decisions based on those health records.

In the report, titled “Elevated Heart Rates: EHR and IT Security,” CDW analysts say that while consumers do trust their doctors to protect their health data, 49 percent believe that electronic health records “will have a negative impact on the privacy of their health data.”

More telling for healthcare startup owners whose companies handle health records, consumers clearly hold healthcare organizations accountable and responsible for the security of those records.

  • 86% of survey respondents said that healthcare companies are responsible for protecting financial data
  • 93% say such companies are accountable for personal identification security
  • 94% say that healthcare organizations are responsible for a patient’s family data

Clearly, safeguarding patient data is a burgeoning responsibility for healthcare entrepreneurs. "The new era of EHR brings with it a whole new set of requirements for healthcare organizations – particularly in the area of IT security," says Bob Rossi, vice president of CDW Healthcare. "Digital files are not inherently less secure than paper files, but they do require a completely different set of technologies, processes and internal policies for protection."

This week’s security breach that exposed 2,000 hospital patients’ information doesn’t do much to strengthen consumers’ faith in the security of their records.

It’s no wonder, then, that another survey, this one released today by Xerox Corp., says that “more needs to be done” to reassure consumers that their medical data is safe and secure. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company surveyed 2,720 U.S. adults, and found that 80 percent of consumers are worried about their personal health data being stolen.

 “The survey results indicate an urgent need for better patient-provider communication,” said Paul Solverson, partner, strategic advisory services, ACS, A Xerox Company. “Providers need to start conveying the benefits of electronic records, particularly the security advantages over today’s paper-based system.”

The Xerox report cites the example of Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Mich., which will roll out a new Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system at the end of this year. According to the hospital, the system will allow EHRs to “follow” a patient as he or she moves through different departments of the hospital, enhancing the quality of care.

Botsford is taking great pains to communicate with patients how the new system will work, and what the hospital is doing to secure their health data.  “We consider communication and training an important part of implementation,” notes Dr. Paul E. LaCasse, president and CEO, Botsford Hospital. “It’s essential to allay concerns and demonstrate what a powerful tool EHRs can be in providing quality healthcare.”

That’s the type of approach that other healthcare service providers must take to ease the fears of consumers over their personal data. If not, consumer advocacy groups may well show up on their doorsteps.

And it won’t be a social call.

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