Electronic Medical Records: Are They Safer?

February 10th, 2016 by Attorney Roger Weinberg

Many health care providers now keep medical information in electronic form, including about half of all nursing homes. Although there are benefits to this (easier access to information by staff, less time by staff moving around paper files) there are also costs. Security is better with paper records, assuming the paper files are stored and/or disposed of properly. On the other hand, millions of electronic records have been stolen by hackers from employers, health care providers and insurance companies.

Medical records are potentially far more valuable than credit card numbers, because detecting medical record breaches often takes longer to detect; therefore, the stolen data has a longer shelf-life for identity thieves, according to the Financial Times. Medical records with social security numbers can be used in tax refund, insurance and Medicare fraud.

While credit card information can be purchased for about a dollar on the black market, a complete medical record may be worth between $200 and $2,000 according to Carl Leonard, an analyst for Raytheon Websense, a security company, who was quoted by the Times.

Fox News reports that last year hackers accessed more than 100 million health records, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Some of the largest numbers of thefts were from major health insurance companies, companies who should have the resources to prevent it from happening. Anthem had the records of 78.8 million customers stolen; 11 million Premera Blue Cross customers lost their medical (and bank account) information to hackers; and Excellus Health Plan had an ongoing cyber attack lasting nearly two years which left ten million customers at risk.

Investigators don’t believe the information stolen from Anthem has been sold on the black market. But other hackers, being creative entrepreneurs exploiting a possible market for a fake service, have targeted Anthem customers with emails that appear to be from Anthem or that offer credit protection. If an email recipient falls for the scam, the financial data they provide could be sold to criminals, according to the Times.

Anthem is the subject of a class action lawsuit by those whose information was stolen, accusing them of not taking appropriate security measures and failing to heed warning signs their system was hacked. Premera Blue Cross is facing five such lawsuits, according to the Seattle Times.

While your loved one may reside at a nursing home, his or her electronic medical records may not. Cloud-based storage of electronic medical records is becoming more popular, especially among medical care providers who don’t have the resources for an adequate IT department, regulatory compliance or security measures, according to InformationWeek.

Electronic medical records are not safer than paper records, but they’re here to stay. Nursing homes, and the contractors they hire to handle their electronic medical records, have legal obligations to take steps to keep them secure even in the insecure cyber world in which we live.

At the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg you’ll find compassionate support and experienced advocates to help your family through the tough times. Call 410-825-3161 today to schedule a free consultation.

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