Electronic health records security and privacy concerns

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Physicians have been using computers to update patient medical files, largely due to the belief that electronic health records have many advantages.

June 20, 20197 mins
The healthcare industry is constantly evolving. This includes the tools healthcare professionals utilize in order to provide quality patient care. Older individuals may clearly recall when doctors would jot down notes on a form inside of a manila folder. That was the patient's medical file. Over the course of the past few years, patients have seen physicians use a computer to update medical files. Most familiar with the industry understand that this is due in large part to the belief that electronic health records (EHR) have many advantages.
Furthermore, the majority is aware of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that stipulates that all healthcare organizations must implement the use of electronic health records by 2015. If this mandate is not satisfied, penalties will ensue. Therefore, healthcare professionals have no choice but to march into the digital world.
This mandate also coincides with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which obligates all healthcare organizations to protect the interests of its patients.
One of the most advantageous features involved with electronic health records is security. While there are skeptics lingering in the industry, reputable electronic health records specialists understand the importance of confidential medical files.

Security and Privacy Concerns

As with any online digital format, concerns of breach exist. Internet hackers possess a digital power that frightens individuals looking to conceal sensitive data. There have been cases in which medical information has been accessed by unauthorized users. While this does not occur all too frequently, the occurrences are enough to plant some cynicism in the minds of physicians and patients. These are valid concerns.
If confidential records end up in the hands of a person not privy to the information, the consequences can be overwhelming. Breach of medical records could lead to identity theft, which can destroy a person's finances, credit and reputation. Victims could seek litigation against the healthcare practice in which the breach occurred. If the breach affected multiple patients, the practice is headed down a long road of legal tribulations.
This is why reputable records management companies have worked hard to provide top-quality security within their software in order to try to eliminate the risk of breach.
Another security concern lies within the conversion from a paper-based filing system to electronic health records. There is a potential for misplacement of data throughout this process. However, professional electronic health record vendors formulate transition strategies in order to essentially eliminate data misplacement.

How to Ensure Security and Privacy

During the transition phase, the EHR vendor must work closely with the healthcare provider for a smooth and secure transition. The company should provide some type of comprehensive user guide for the users in the provider's practice.
There are six ways in which electronic health record entities can provide superior security and privacy solutions once the EHR is implemented.
1) Enhance administrative controls
  • Update policies and procedures
  • Guide employees through the stringent privacy and security training process
  • Run background checks on all employees
2) Monitor physical and system access
  • Create physically inaccessible systems to unauthorized individuals
  • Have exigencies in place for data recovery or restoration
  • Provide identification and verification requirements to all system users
  • Access the list of authorized users
  • Supply passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs)
  • Provide automatic software shutdown routines

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3) Identify workstation usage
  • Set privacy filters at each workstation
  • Distinguish the different capabilities of different workstations
4) Audit and monitor system users
  • Identify any weakness in the system
  • Detect any security breach or attempt at a breach
  • Regularly audit all authorized users
  • Issue specified punishments to employees not following compliance guidelines
5) Employ device and media controls
  • Construct a security plan for data disposal
  • Remove data from reusable hardware
  • Track all reprocessed hardware
  • Back up all data from all hardware
6) Apply data encryption
  • Disguise all data inside medical files through cryptography
Reliable electronic health records companies apply these enhanced security and privacy protocols. Perhaps the most important security protocol is data encryption, which causes data to become unreadable to outside sources.
Electronic health records specialists also provide remote storage and data backup systems. While this may not necessarily present as strong of a defense against hackers and data breaches as data encryption, it provides security for healthcare organizations against the potential of software failures or natural disasters that could destroy or damage files.

Can Patients Gain Access to EHRs?

According to HIPAA, patients have certain rights regarding their electronic medical records. The mandate states that patients may:
  • Request a copy of or gain access to their medical records
  • Request a rectification of any typographical errors or incorrect information
  • Receive notification about the usage of the medical records as well as who has access
  • Select the communication method with the healthcare provider
  • Receive notification if an unauthorized user gains access to any medical information
  • File a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights if there are any suspected violations from a healthcare provider

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