Report: Medical data breaches are rising, with no end in sight

by Victoria Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle

High-profile health care data breaches, like the recent attack on medical insurance giant Anthem that compromised the personal information of as many as 80 million Americans, are on the rise and expected to increase with the use of new technologies employed by criminals, a study by Kaiser Permanente researchers has found.

From 2010 to 2013, the number of reported breaches — from the theft of a laptop with confidential patient information to employees walking off with patient files — involving more than 500 patients increased 23 percent, while those involving hacking or a technological glitch that exposed or could have exposed sensitive information doubled in that period, according to the study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What’s more, the study estimates that more than 29 million health records were affected by breaches during that three-year period, but that number has already been dwarfed in the first three months of this year, researchers found.

Federal health privacy laws were created before electronic medical records came into wide use and fail to adequately protect the public’s medical information. The researchers and an accompanying editorial called on health organizations and policymakers to improve personnel training and security measures.

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