The devastating impact of healthcare data breaches

One in four U.S. consumers have had their personal medical information stolen from technology systems, according to Accenture. The findings show that half of those who experienced a breach were victims of medical identity theft and had to pay approximately $2,500 in out-of-pocket costs per incident, on average.

healthcare data breaches

In addition, the survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers found that the breaches were most likely to occur in hospitals — the location cited by more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents who experienced a breach — followed by urgent-care clinics (22 percent), pharmacies (22 percent), physician’s offices (21 percent) and health insurers (21 percent).


Half of consumers who experienced a breach found out about it themselves, through noting an error on their credit card statement or benefits explanation, whereas only one-third were alerted to the breach by the organization where it occurred, and only 15 percent were alerted by a government agency.

Among those who experienced a breach, half were victims of medical identity theft. Most often, the stolen identity was used to purchase items (cited by 37 percent of data-breached respondents) or used for fraudulent activities, such as billing for care (37 percent) or filling prescriptions (26 percent).

Nearly one-third of consumers had their social security number (31 percent), contact information (31 percent) or medical data (31 percent) compromised. Unlike credit-card identity theft, where the card provider generally has a legal responsibility for account holders’ losses above $50, victims of medical identity theft often have no automatic right to recover their losses.

“Health systems need to recognize that many patients will suffer personal financial loss from cyberattacks of their medical information,” said Reza Chapman, managing director of cybersecurity in Accenture’s health practice. “Not only do health organizations need to stay vigilant in safeguarding personal information, they need to build a foundation of digital trust with patients to help weather the storm of a breach.”

healthcare data breaches

Trust still remains

Despite the myriad of breaches occurring, significantly more consumers still trust their healthcare provider (88 percent) and payer (82 percent) to keep their healthcare data secure than trust health technology companies (57 percent) or the government (56 percent) to do so.

While 82 percent of consumers said they want to have at least some involvement in keeping their healthcare data secured, 64 percent said that they have such involvement today.

Breach response

In response to the breach, 91 percent of the consumers who were data-breach victims took some type of action. Some changed healthcare providers (cited by 25 percent), insurance plans (21 percent) or sought legal counsel (19 percent). Others took personal steps, such as changing login credentials (29 percent), subscribing to identity-protection services (24 percent) or adding security software to their computer (20 percent).

Only 12 percent of data-breach victims reported the breach to the organization holding their data.

“Now is the time to strengthen cybersecurity capabilities, improve defences, build resilience and better manage breaches so that consumers have confidence that their data is in trusted hands,” Chapman said. “When a breach occurs, healthcare organizations should be able to ask ‘How is our plan working’ instead of ‘What’s our plan?”

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