Electronic Health Record Security Concerns Are Global

Around 80 percent of Australians, Britons, and Americans express concern

3 min read
Electronic Health Record Security Concerns Are Global

As I mentioned in a recent post, nearly half of Australians may end up boycotting the new voluntary electronic health record (EHR) system when it launches next year because they believe the government can't provide guarantees that their private medical details will remain private. A new Harris survey sponsored by the identity management company Sailpoint highlights EHR privacy concerns not only in Australia, but also in the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to the survey findings, some 83 percent of Australians, 81 percent of Britons, and 80 percent of Americans express some level of concern about moving their personal medical information to an electronic form.

When they were asked about a health care organization managing their personal information electronically, the survey respondents indicated that they are most concerned about:

  • Their identities being stolen—37 percent of Australians, 33 percent of Britons, and 35 percent of Americans
  • Personal info exposed on the Internet—30 percent of Australians, 26 percent of Britons, and 29 percent of Americans
  • Personal information being viewed by persons not directly related to the patient’s care—11 percent of Australians, 15 percent of Britons, and 10 percent of Americans

The responses seem to be in close alignment across all three countries, even though health privacy regulations differ in each country. The lack of faith in IT security vis-à-vis health care seems to be a universal phenomenon, probably with understandable reasons.

For example, since September 2009, at least 9.8 million instances of improper disclosure of medical information have been recorded in the United States. Earlier this month, the renowned Stanford Hospital & Clinics in California added to the total when it announced that the electronic health records of 20 000 of its emergency room patients seen between March 1st and August 31st of 2009, including their names, diagnostic codes, medical record numbers, hospital account numbers, billing charges, and emergency room admission and discharge dates, had been posted for nearly a year (Sept. 9, 2010, to Aug. 23, 2011) on a commercial Web site called Student of Fortune.

The San Jose Mercury Newsreported that Student of Fortune solicits bids to answer homework questions. The patient information showed up as a spreadsheet attached to a file, and was traced to a vendor that worked with for the hospital. All work with the vendor has been suspended pending an investigation.

According to the newspaper, a stolen health record is now worth US $50 on the information black market, whereas a Social Security number is worth about a $1 (a credit card number fetches $1 to $2).

Then, in the UK, the National Health Service Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trustapologized for leaving a CD containing the records of 1.6 million patients in a file cabinet that was later sent off to a landfill for disposal during an office move in March of this year. The records contained the patients' addresses, dates of birth, NHS numbers, and GP practice codes.

The Trust tried to play down the incident by saying the information was from 2002 and probably was not retrievable. The Trust also stated:

"It is important to stress that information systems now are far more secure than they were at the time these files were produced—we no longer store information on floppy disks or CDs and use sophisticated systems of encryption."

Which is true but also somewhat irrelevant because, as reported in a story at PublicService.co.uk, the Trust also admitted that it needed to retrain its personnel in current data security policies, which were not followed, leading to the incident in the first place.

This is not surprising. In a study released last week by the consulting company PWC and its Health Research Institute, only 58 percent of health care providers and 41 percent of health insurers were found to have trained employees on privacy measures related to the use of electronic health records.

With findings like that, it makes you wonder why 20 percent of folks in the Australia, Britain, and the United States still express no concern about EHRs and IT security.

Photo: iStockphoto

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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