New studies show number of Americans who are unwilling to reveal private health information is growing, hindering medical technology developers

Healthcare consumers appear not only to be raising their expectations of the quality of care they receive, but also in the privacy and security of their protected health information (PHI) as well. This is an important development for clinical laboratories and pathology groups, since they hold large quantities of patient test data.

News reports indicate that, due to the increase in patient distrust about privacy and security, developers of health information technology (HIT) products that collect and transmit patient data are struggling to insert their products into the broader healthcare market.

However, there is a positive side to this trend for medical laboratory professionals. Patients’ interest in tighter security and privacy protections provides pathology groups and clinical laboratory leaders with an invaluable opportunity to inform patients on their lab’s use of cybersecurity measures and to reiterate their commitment to protecting their patients’ data.

Clinical Laboratories Can Ease Patient Fears

It’s not enough that medical laboratories promote their services and efficiencies. They also must tout the capability of their laboratory information management systems (LIMS) to protect a patient’s PHI. That’s critical because recent studies indicate high proportions of healthcare consumers are becoming increasingly wary of how their healthcare data are protected.

The graphic above taken from a 2017 Accenture survey may indicate why healthcare consumer trust in an organization’s ability to secure protected health data (PHI) has eroded so deeply. (Graphic copyright: Accenture.)

Numerous reports of data hacking and security breaches have eroded healthcare consumers’ trust. Patients are more skeptical than ever about the benefits of HIT, such as:

That’s according to a national poll conducted by Black Book Market Research of more than 12,000 consumers in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The poll aimed at exploring consumers’ adoption and acceptance of HIT. It found:

  • 87% of consumers are unwilling to divulge all their medical information (up from 66% in 2013);
  • 70% of Americans distrust health technology (a significant increase from 10% in 2014);
  • And 57% of people who underwent actual encounters with providers’ technology (including ancillary providers, such as clinical laboratories) remain skeptical of HIT.

Even with all the bells and whistles, HIT cannot penetrate the healthcare system if people don’t adopt it, a Black Book news release pointed out.

89% of Patients Withhold Information During Office Visits

Respondents to Black Book’s poll reported being especially alarmed by their data being shared (without their acknowledgement or consent) beyond their hospital and physician. This includes:

  • Pharmacy prescriptions (90%);
  • Mental health notes (99%); and
  • Chronic conditions (81%).

Other key findings from the Black Book poll include the fact that:

  • 89% of consumers withheld health information during their 2016 provider visits;
  • 93% are concerned about security of their personal financial information;
  • 69% say their primary care doctor does not have the technological expertise necessary for them to feel safe divulging extensive personal information.

Missing Data Compromises Care, Analytics

An article in Healthcare IT News reported that fear of breaches is translating to consumers’ reticence to share information. And, the Black Book survey states that data analytics and population health efforts by healthcare providers could be compromised due to consumer distrust, according to a FierceHealthcare article.

“Incomplete medical histories and undisclosed conditions, treatment, or medications raises obvious concerns on the reliability and usefulness of patient health data in application of risk-based analytics, care plans, modeling, payment reforms, and population health programming,” stated Doug Brown, President, Black Book, in the news release.

“This revelation should force cybersecurity solutions to the top of the technology priorities in 2017 to achieve tangible trust in big data dependability,” he concluded.

Patients/Doctors at Odds Over Use of Patient Data

According to the Black Book poll, 91% of people surveyed who use wearable medical tracking devices believe their physician’s EHR should be able to store any health-related data they wish. However, physicians responding to the provider section of the survey stated they have all the information they need. In fact, 94% of the doctors stated patient-generated data (generated by wearables) are “overwhelming, redundant, and unlikely to make a clinical difference.”

The disconnect has led to miscommunication and frustration in the doctor/patient relationship, noted a HealthITSecurity article.

Low Health Literacy Linked to Distrust of HIT

A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research by the University of Texas at Austin (UT) linked skepticism of HIT with low health literacy.

People who struggle to find and understand medical information tend to also be wary of health technologies, such as wearables, patient portals, and mobile apps, noted a UT news release.

Conversely, Americans with a high degree of health literacy are more likely to use fitness trackers and online portals and view them as useful and trustworthy, UT researchers stated.

This study of nearly 5,000 Americans also explored patients’ perceptions of privacy and trust in institutions. Researchers found lower health literacy was associated with more distrust and less adoption of HIT tools.

“There is a pressing need to further the understanding of how health literacy is related to HIT app adoption and usage. This will ensure that all users receive the full health benefits from these technologies in a manner that protects health information privacy, and that users engage with organizations and providers they trust,” the researchers wrote.

Cybersecurity a Priority for Labs

Cybersecurity and wearable technologies were identified as among the three primary trends (along with Social Media) facing clinical laboratories and in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers in 2017, according to insights shared by the Diagnostics Marketing Association in a recent Dark Daily e-briefing.

Another Dark Daily e-briefing summarized accounts of ransomware and cyberattacks on hospitals and medical labs in 2016. Clinical laboratory leaders are reminded to work with provider teams and appropriate experts to determine the lab’s ability to prevent and withstand cyberattacks.

Labs may glean some ideas from these cybersecurity “2017 must-haves” shared (along with others) in a Healthcare IT News article:

  • Invest in a risk assessment that makes clear exactly what needs to be protected;
  • Recognize that beyond medical and billing information, high tech equipment (such as lab analyzers) need to be addressed in planning.

Medical laboratory leaders should not be shy about communicating their lab’s cybersecurity priority, investment, and actions taken to keep their patient’s PHI private and secure. That message could be just what skeptical consumers need to hear and could be well received by the lab’s patients.

—Donna Marie Pocius

 

Related Information:

Healthcare’s Digital Divide Widens, Black Book Consumer Survey

Healthcare Digital Divide Getting Bigger and Other Bad News from Black Book

Patients Don’t Trust Health Information Technology Effects of Patient Distrust on health Data Exchange Security

Effects of Patient Distrust on health Data Exchange Security

One in Four US Consumers Have Had Their Healthcare Data Breached, Accenture Survey Reveals

New Health Literacy Digital Divide: Low Health Literacy Connected to Distrust of Health Technologies

Health Literacy and Health Technology Adoption: The Potential for a New Digital Divide

Top 10 Cybersecurity Must-Haves in 2017

Diagnostic Marketing Association’s Global Marketing Summit Will Convene in New Orleans Just Prior to the Executive War College to Discuss Primary Trends Facing IVD

MedStar Health Latest Victim in String of Ransomware Attacks on Hospitals and Medical Laboratories that Reveal the Vulnerability of Healthcare IT