Hospitals 'struggling' to protect patient data

The healthcare industry is spending an estimated $6 billion annually on data breaches of patient information, according to the latest benchmark study by Ponemon Institute. Protecting patient data is a low priority, the study concludes.

On Tuesday, the Ponemon Institute, a privacy and information management research firm, and ID Experts, a provider of data breach solutions, released Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy and Data Security.

The study indicates that protecting patient data is a low priority for hospitals and that organizations have little confidence in their ability to secure patient records, putting individuals at great risk for medical identity theft, financial theft and embarrassment of exposure of private information.

The passage of the HITECH Act in 2009 widened the scope of privacy and security protections under HIPAA to provide stronger safeguards for patient data.  This includes notification to patients when their information is breached.

"Our research shows that the healthcare industry is struggling to protect sensitive medical information, putting patients at risk of medical identity fraud and costing hospitals and other healthcare services companies millions in annual breach-related costs," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder, Ponemon Institute.

 "At this point one would hope to see that healthcare organizations have improved information security practices and come into compliance with HITECH, now that it's been more than one year since it was enacted. Instead we found enormous vulnerabilities.  The protection of patient data should be at the forefront of their efforts," he said.

Key findings of the research: