94% of healthcare organizations had a data breach last year

The Ponemon Institute just released their third annual “Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy & Data Security.” Sponsored by ID experts, the survey and report looks at data breaches in the healthcare industry. While some organizations have taken steps to strengthen their privacy and security programs the research indicates the majority lack budget and resources to prevent or detect breaches.

The survey reveals some impressive data, similar to the trends last year. While 94% of the healthcare organizations have reported at least one incident, as many as 45% organisations reported more than 5 data breach incidents. The report is talking about clinics and hospitals that are part of a healthcare network (46%), integrated delivery systems (36%) and standalone hospital or clinic (18%).

Data breaches of health records information continue to be a problem for the entire health care industry. Healthcare organizations have been increasingly facing fines due to the unauthorized disclosure of patient information. High numbers of patient accounts are involved anytime a breach happens which can amount to several hundred thousand to several million dollars in fines.

Disclosures made regarding a patient’s protected health information (PHI) without their authorization is considered a violation of the Privacy Rule under HIPAA.

Costs of data breach

What causes the data breaches?

No doubt, the data breaches are costly in terms of HIPAA compliance and penalties, what really is causing this?

A report from the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) shows that the biggest cause of HIPAA data breaches is theft and loss of laptops and other portable media, not hackers. The perps are most likely not after the health data, they are after the devices themselves, and your staff unfortunately makes it relatively easy for them to gain access to the critical HIPAA data just came along for the ride.The HITRUST research found that only 8% of the breaches were caused by hacking and/or malware. HITRUST is a national consortium of healthcare professionals that helps the health industry protect patient data.

Is BYOD penetration a reason for high number of violations? Ponemon reported that 81% of its survey respondents said they allowed BYOD to access organizational data, and 54% said they were not sure if those devices were secure.

Sarah Kliff reported recently in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog that doctors emailing with their patients is becoming increasingly common. That means that the industry needs to pay particular attention to smartphones, wrote Art Gross at the HIPAA Secure Now blog. In a post titled, “Your Smartphone Will Cause Your Next Data Breach,” Gross aims his argument at healthcare workers who don’t think they have any patient information on their smartphones.

“Smartphones can be used to access EMRs [electronic medical records], PACS [picture archiving and communication system], to provide remote access to [spreadsheets and documents] and run thousands of applications that may contain patient information,” he wrote.


As the case with any information sensitive organization, healthcare industry to focus on their data security processes and best practises of information security. As the threat landscape changes rapidly and the value of information increases, management need to focus more on securing their IT assets. IT risk assessments need to be carried out at frequent intervals than a routine annual assessment. There is a need to set up[ a proper IT Governance mechanism at board level to ensure the important resource to the organization- data – is protected.

In its recent report, HITRUST recommends specific measures to control the data breaches in the health care industry.

Endpoint Security

o Conduct an accurate inventory of endpoint devices and develop a “bring your own

device” (BYOD) policy and management program.

o Ensure email access is controlled and encrypt email

o Encrypt mobile computing devices and consider encrypting desktops

o Ensure less mobile endpoints such as servers are adequately protected

Mobile Media Security

o Restrict the use of unencrypted mobile media, including backup media such as

unencrypted tapes
Paper Records

o Ensure paper records are adequately secured when transitioning to an EHR system

o Make employees aware of proper handling and disposal procedures

o Provide an adequate number of shredders or shredding bins in convenient locations9

o Ensure bins are emptied regularly and require onsite shredding if possible

o Centrally store and manage paper records in a secure location
Business Associates (BA)

o Formally assess and manage the risks incurred with a BA

o Classify and manage risks based on impact and likelihood of a breach by the BA

o Periodically rePevaluate BAs based on changing risks but no less than every three years

o Limit BA access to only the information minimally necessary to conduct business
Physician Practices

o Treat physician practices that connect to your organization as high risk

o Require similar assurances from physician practices that you obtain from BAs

o Ensure risks are comprehensively assessed: administrative, technical and physical

o Minimize effort by leveraging existing resources from HHS, HITRUST and others


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