Half of Americans Distrust Privacy of EHRs: CDW

A study by CDW Healthcare reveals that half of the U.S. population believes electronic health records will impact their health in a negative way.

Americans don't trust electronic health records, but they trust their doctors, CDW Healthcare, a provider of technology infrastructure for the health care industry, uncovers in a new survey.

For its report "Elevated Heart Rates: EHR and IT Security," CDW interviewed 1,000 Americans who have been seen in a health care facility in the last 18 months to find out their views on EHRs, privacy and security. CDW spoke to subjects between Jan. 24 and Jan. 31.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is supporting EHRs through its federal mandates governing meaningful use of EHRs and has allocated $27 billion in federal stimulus money under ARRA (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) to encourage health care providers to implement this technology.

The government has claimed that EHRs will reduce the risk of medical errors, adverse drug interactions, and redundant medical procedures as well as reduce health costs. The medical records could also make information more available in a timely way and improve office efficiency.

Still, 49 percent of patients surveyed by CDW believed that EHRs would impact their privacy negatively.

"Americans are increasingly focused on protecting their personal information. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, the number of identity theft victims fell 27 percent during the last year," Bob Rossi, vice president of CDW Healthcare, wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "People take their privacy seriously and want health care organizations to do the same."

News of data breaches, like those at insurer Health Net as well as Detroit's Henry Ford Health System and Massachusetts General Hospital, erode patients' trust in electronic health data and those providers holding it.

"The survey results show that once an organization notifies customers of a data breach, one-third of those customers never fully trust the organization again," Rossi said.

Despite the negative thoughts on EHRs, patients trust their doctors to maintain their privacy, according to Rossi. "Patients overwhelmingly trust their physicians to protect their privacy and to use personal data in the best interest of the patient," he said.

A perception exists that because medical records are going electronic, they're less secure than paper, Rossi suggested. "The perception will closely mirror reality," he said. "EHRs aren't inherently less secure than paper records; they just require a different set of people, processes and technologies to protect."

Patients also hold doctors responsible for protecting their health information.

Of the patients CDW surveyed, 86 percent believed that health care organizations held responsibility for securing financial information, 93 percent thought providers were responsible for keeping personally identifiable information secure and 94 percent believed doctors should keep data about a patient's family private.

Meanwhile, doctors don't have some of the essential IT security measures needed to protect health information, with 30 percent of physician practices lacking antivirus software and 34 percent not running network firewalls, CDW reveals in its March 8 report.

In a contrasting report, EHR provider PracticeFusion commissioned research by GfK Roper revealing that 78 percent of patients believe EHRs will boost care.

"It's 2011 and patients want their health care to reflect the fact we're in the 21st century," Ryan Howard, CEO of Practice Fusion, said in a statement. "They want to have prescriptions sent electronically, to receive e-mail appointment reminders and to review past diagnoses and upcoming appointments online."