Canadian Underwriter

One in four U.S. consumers victim of healthcare data breach: Accenture

February 21, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter

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Just over one in four consumers (26%) in the United States have had their personal medical information stolen from technology systems, according to results of a survey from Accenture released on Monday.

The findings related to the U.S. portion of Accenture’s seven-country survey. The full research, Accenture 2017 Healthcare Cybersecurity and Digital Trust Research, represents a survey of 7,580 consumers aged 18+ to assess their attitudes toward healthcare data, digital trust, roles and responsibilities, data sharing and breaches. The online poll included consumers across seven countries: Australia, Brazil, England, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the U.S. The survey was conducted by Nielsen on behalf of Accenture.

In the U.S., half (50%) of 2,000 consumers polled who experienced a breach were victims of medical identity theft and had to pay approximately US$2,500 in out-of-pocket costs per incident, on average, Accenture said in a press release.

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%) of respondents who experienced a breach – followed by urgent-care clinics (22%), pharmacies (22%), physician’s offices (21%) and health insurers (21%). Half (50%) 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 (33%) were alerted to the breach by the organization where it occurred. Only about one in seven (15%) were alerted by a government agency, the release noted.

Among those who experienced a breach, half (50%) were victims of medical identity theft. Most often, the stolen identity was used to purchase items (cited by 37% of data-breached respondents) or used for fraudulent activities, such as billing for care (37%) or filling prescriptions (26%). Nearly one-third of consumers had their social security number (31%), contact information (31%) or medical data (31%) compromised, the global professional services company reported. And unlike credit card identity theft, where the card provider generally has a legal responsibility for account holders’ losses above US$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, in the release. “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.”

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

And while more than four in five consumers (82%) said they want to have at least some involvement in keeping their healthcare data secured, fewer than two-thirds (64%) said that they have such involvement today.

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