Consumers More Worried About Exposure of Financial Information Than Health Data

The privacy and security of health data is less of a concern for consumers than the privacy and security of financial information such as credit card numbers, according to a recent survey by the healthcare marketing agency SCOUT.

The Harris Poll survey was conducted on 2,033 adults from May 10-14, 2018 as part of a new research series called SCOUT Rare Insights. The survey revealed fewer than half of consumers (49%) were very concerned about the privacy and security of their health data, whereas more than two thirds of consumers (69%) were very concerned about the privacy and security of their financial data such as credit/debit card numbers and bank account information.

Consumers are often covered by insurance policies on their credit cards and can reclaim losses in many cases. A new credit card number can be issued in cases of theft and there are laws that limit personal liability. However, if health insurance information and Social Security numbers are stolen, breach victims can suffer severe losses that may not be recoverable.

Medical identity theft can also cause patients serious problems. When identities are stolen for the purpose of obtaining medications or medical services, medical records can be altered and patients may come to physical harm as a result. There is a booming market for medical identity theft and healthcare data breaches are occurring at an alarming rate.

Financial data breaches are usually detected rapidly and victims are alerted to the fraudulent use of their information promptly. In the case of health data breaches, it may take many months or even years before patients become aware that their health data has been misused. There are also few protections in place to limit liability and damages.

“We need to be much more aware and concerned about the safety of our health data,” said Raffi Siyahian, principal at SCOUT. “First, the risk of having your medical data exposed is pretty significant. And second, the consequences of someone gaining unauthorized access to your personal health information can be far more damaging than having someone illegally access your personal financial information.”

The survey also revealed that just over a third of patients (36%) are using online portals to access their personal health information. Only 28% of under 35s were using portals compared to 39% of over 35s. Checking health records regularly can ensure mistakes are promptly corrected and misuse of personal health information is detected rapidly.

The main reasons why online portals were not used were a preference for discussing health matters in person (47%) and concerns over the security of health data in online portals (39%).

When asked about the types of medical information patients were most concerned about being mishandled and shared, the area of most concern was diagnosed medical conditions and diseases, rated as a concern by 31% of respondents.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.