Left Menu
Development News Edition

Electronic health records of patients might result in patient’s privacy breach

“My concern is that additional rules and regulations won’t get to the heart of the problem. We could focus on shredding, but we should really focus on reducing paper waste,” she said.

Reuters | Updated: 23-03-2018 11:07 IST | Created: 23-03-2018 10:56 IST
Electronic health records of patients might result in patient’s privacy breach
“My concern is that additional rules and regulations won’t get to the heart of the problem. We could focus on shredding, but we should really focus on reducing paper waste,” she said.(Image credit: You tube )

The move to electronic health records comes amid laws in most places requiring patient personal information to be protected, but it may also be creating a new risk to patient privacy, Canadian researchers say.

In an audit of recycling bins at five hospitals in Toronto, researchers found more than 2,500 paper documents with personally identifiable patient information, according to a report in JAMA.

"Patients divulge private information to their doctors and hospitals, often that they wouldn't want widely known, and we need to maintain that information in a confidential way," said senior study author Dr. Nancy Baxter of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

In Ontario, as in the United States, the legislation requires personal health information to be protected. As more patient data is kept in electronic health records, however, paper records may be discarded more frequently and create risk for privacy breaches, Baxter's team writes.

In the US, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 spells out privacy rules for patient information.

"We didn't have as much paper around 20 years ago as we do now because we'd receive a test that would be the only copy, so we'd put it in the chart," Baxter said in a telephone interview. "Now we print for convenience, and although most of these thousands of documents go into shredding bins, some go astray."

The researchers conducted a recycling audit at five teaching hospitals in Toronto between November 2014 and May 2016. Each hospital had personal health information policies, as well as recycling bins and secure shredding bins for disposal of sensitive material. At each site, the researchers collected recycling three times a week during a four-week period from inpatient wards, outpatient clinics, emergency departments, physician offices and intensive care units.

The study team looked for any papers with personally identifiable information, including single sheets or stapled documents, and then they classified the sensitivity of the contents: low for identifiable information only, medium for information about a diagnosis and high for a description of the patient's medical condition.

The research team found 2,687 documents and rated 807 as low, 843 as medium and 1,042 as high sensitivity. Personal information was found at all the hospitals and in all locations, although more than half (1,449 items) were found in doctor's offices. The most commonly found personally identifiable documents included clinical notes, summaries and medical reports.

"Although some sites in hospitals can get chaotic, those areas aren't the ones with problems," Baxter said. "Instead, we found the most in physicians' offices, which should get as close to 100 percent appropriate shredding as possible. We really need to work on this."

Baxter and others created a podcast called "The Differential" to highlight issues in healthcare delivery and launched the series March 20 with an episode detailing what they found in this study.

Baxter said she has talked to the privacy commissioner of Ontario about what to do moving forward, including the importance of maintaining patient trust about confidentiality.

"My concern is that additional rules and regulations won't get to the heart of the problem. We could focus on shredding, but we should really focus on reducing paper waste," she said.

"For patients, privacy comes first, so what security measures do we have in place to prevent a breach and then how can we talk to patients about them?" said Mohamed Abdelhamid of California State University Long Beach, who wasn't involved in the study.

"Although private information on paper is of concern, that's limited to the people who can physically get to those papers," Abdelhamid told Reuters Health by phone. "Once you go electronic, you're subject to hackers from elsewhere, and we need to be aware of how we protect that information."

Ultimately, patients should understand that sharing information is not a binary "yes-or-no" decision and often varies by situation, Abdelhamid said. Sharing records when seeking a second opinion for a diagnosis, for instance, could cause bias for the second doctor who sees the first doctor's notes. On the other hand, sharing documents that outline medical history or track medications that may interact could help doctors create the best medical plan.

"Increase your awareness of both the positive and negative sides of sharing data electronically," he said. "Consider your own privacy barometer and calculate what's beneficial to you in your specific case."


TRENDING

OPINION / BLOG / INTERVIEW

Post-COVID-19 Nigeria needs a robust Health Management Information System to handle high disease burden

Nigeria is among a few countries that conceptualised a health management information system HMIS in the early 90s but implementation has been a challenge till date. Besides COVID-19, the country has a huge burden of communicable and non-com...

Morocco COVID-19 response: A fragile health system and the deteriorating situation

Learning from its European neighbors, Morocco imposed drastic measures from the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak to try to contain its spread. The strategy worked for a few months but the cases have surged after mid-June. In this sit...

COVID-19: Argentina’s health system inefficiencies exaggerate flaws of health information system

You can recover from a drop in the GDP, but you cant recover from death, was the straightforward mindset of Argentinas President Alberto Fernndez and defined the countrys response to COVID-19. The South American nation imposed a strict...

Rwanda’s COVID-19 response commendable but health information system needs improvement

Rwanda is consistently working to improve its health information system from many years. However, it is primarily dependent on the collection and reporting of health data on a monthly basis. Besides, evaluation studies on Rwandas HIS publis...

Videos

Latest News

3 arrested with leopard head, wild boar meat in Odisha

Three persons were arrested from Odishas Nuapada district on Sunday with a leopard head and skin, wild boar meat and several articles meant for poaching, officials said. Acting on a tip-off, a team of forest department personnel conducted a...

LS nod to bill to upgrade Guj university as institution of national importance

The Lok Sabha on Sunday passed a bill which seeks to upgrade the Gujarat-based Raksha Shakti University as an institution of national importance and also change its name. In a brief debate before its passage by a voice vote, Abdul Khaliq of...

Nigerian drug peddler held with cocaine at New Delhi Railway Station

The Delhi Police has arrested an interstate Nigerian drug peddler and seized 250 grams of cocaine from his possession at New Delhi Railway Station. According to police, the accused has been identified as Victor Kaine 35, who came to India t...

Taxi driver injured as his vehicle catches fire

A taxi driver suffered burns after his vehicle caught fire on a Bus Rapid Transit BRT track in south Delhis Madangir area on Sunday, police said. The driver, Deepak, a resident of Sangam Vihar, was taken to a nearby hospital by the PCR van....

Give Feedback