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A high percentage of Americans are “somewhat” or “deeply” concerned about the privacy and security of their medical records, according to a survey quietly released yesterday by the Office of Civil Rights under the Department of Health and Human Services.

The OCR surveyed more than 2,000 people during 2012 and 2013 and found that 75 percent said they are concerned about privacy, while 69 percent said they worry about security.

Those concerns don’t seem to have much to do with the medium used to store the data. The survey shows people equally concerned about the security/privacy of paper medical records as they are about electronic ones.

The survey results shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given the number of data breaches that have happened in other industries like banking and e-commerce.


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And big data breaches are expected to increase in the health care system, too. This was demonstrated earlier this year when cyber thieves broke into the servers at Community Health Systems and stole personal data including names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers, and social security numbers from 4.5 million patient records. The thieves, who are thought to have been Chinese hackers, made off with no clinical information, but analysts speculate that was their real target.

The CHS breach is not the first major theft, and it certainly isn’t likely to be the last. Financially pressured clinics and hospitals are typically slow to guard against known attack methods, and even slower at preventing future attacks.

As of August, the records of more than 30 million patients had been breached in the U.S.

But the survey numbers tell another side to the story. The results show that 76 percent of patients want their health information in digital form, and 70 percent want their health providers to be able to share the data.

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Is this a mixed message? Not according to App Association president Morgan Reed.

“It’s absolutely clear that patients are expressing a need for protection of their EHR data,” Reed says.

Reed says the OCR survey reveals consumers’ desire for the government to push for the use of electronic health records, and to use cutting-edge security technology to protect them. “When we talk about the growth of electronic health records and the interoperability of health data, patients want that, but it has to be done in a safe context,” Reed says.

The survey, however, isn’t likely to change the government’s current push for health providers to convert paper medical records to electronic ones, and to develop meaningful ways of sharing health data from provider to provider. It would take a major political shift to do that — like, say, the Republican Party winning control of the Senate.

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