Balancing Privacy and Security with Patient Care

Healthcare InformationWeek has an article that discusses the challenges of EMR security and privacy. A lot of the stuff is nothing new to those of us in the healthcare space. Although, it’s interesting to see how they summarize things like the goal to be full EMR by 2014 and the EMR stimulus money.

However, the article did include these interesting stats on the number of breaches that happen in healthcare and the focus IT managers put on privacy and data security in healthcare.

Healthcare providers and other health businesses aren’t stepping up to protect privacy, according to a recent study. Some 80% of healthcare organizations have experienced at least one incident of lost or stolen health information in the past year, according to the study, released this month from security management company LogLogic and the Ponemon Institute, which conducts privacy and information management research.

Also, some 70% of IT managers surveyed said senior management doesn’t view privacy and data security as a priority, and 53% say their organizations don’t take appropriate steps to protect patient privacy. Less than half judge their existing security measures as “effective or very effective.”

I was surprised that 80% of organizations have had an incident of lost or stolen health information. However, I honestly don’t see this ever changing. Stuff happens even with the very best efforts.

I did also like this quote of John Halamka about the challenge of balancing privacy and security with sharing the patient information to provide better patient care.

“You want to protect the patient’s preferences for confidentiality,” Halamka said. But you also need to get information where it’s needed. “If you come to the emergency department in a coma, and you have a record that includes psychiatric treatment, HIV, drug abuse, and other information, would you share part of it or all of it? My preference would be all of it, with the hope that emergency workers would use it discreetly, to save my life.” But other people may feel differently, Halamka said, and healthcare policy needs to serve all those needs.

I’m a little surprised that Halamka has had psychiatric treatment, HIV and drug abuse. He’s doing quite well considering that history. (that’s sarcasm in case you didn’t note it) His history aside, I’m totally with him on wanting that information available as well. However, he’s totally correct that many people wouldn’t want that stuff shared. Enabling the consumer to make that decision though is a hard nut to crack.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • What people may not realize is that if you’re not careful with your EMR, it could actually be easier to steal information.

    Instead of having to walk out with a room full of paper file cabinets, all someone may have to do is copy the EMR to a thumb drive. OK, maybe not a thumb drive, but you get the idea about it being easy to potentially steal.

  • Medisoft,
    It’s definitely a balance. However, if done right, an EMR can be much more secure than paper. The problem is that far too many offices haven’t done it right.

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