Patients most worried about unauthorized access when PHI is faxed

Most Americans in a new survey were concerned about a data breach of their personal health information--and the greater the concern, the more likely they were to withhold some information from their doctors.

Overall, more than 75 percent felt confident that some safeguards were in place to protect their information from unauthorized access, but 67 percent were concerned about the possibility of a breach when health data was faxed between providers and 64.5 percent were concerned about electronic transfer.

The study dealt with data from the Health Information National Trends Survey, which tracks Americans' access and use of health-related information, published at the Journal of the American Medial Informatics Association.

About two-thirds of respondents (75.4 percent) were confident that they had a say in the collection, use and sharing of their medical information. Just 12.3 percent had ever withheld information from their doctor because of security concerns, but those who felt they had little say in how their information was used were more likely to withhold information.

Smokers, for instance, were more likely to keep mum about that habit. Security measures to maintain confidentiality are particularly important for information such as sexually transmitted diseases and mental health and drug misuse issues, the authors wrote.

They also advised providers to tell patients when they have a condition that must be reported to public health authorities, so they're not alarmed should the health department follow up with them later. Doing so will help foster patient trust.

Patients who withhold information, such as relevant travel or social history, could put other people at risk, they note, and jeopardize the data quality of healthcare surveillance systems.

The consumer advocacy group the Citizens' Council for Health Freedom has just sounded alarms about the information public health agencies collect without patients' consent.

The ONC's Health IT Policy Committee has been concerned that patients who want to keep certain health information from being exchanged will choose to out of health information exchanges altogether.

At the same time, allowing patients to decide which information can be exchanged poses a huge challenge for HIEs.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract