Security hacks of electronic medical records have more than doubled this year, costing the healthcare system $50 billion, according to a new report from the American Action Forum.
A report that the right-leaning think tank provided to the Washington Examiner underscores the extra costs and security problems caused by electronic health records, as doctors and hospitals make troublingly slow progress toward switching from paper to electronic records or improving the ones they already use.
Health record security breaches have soared this year, with more than 94 million electronic medical records compromised so far. That's more than double the total number of records compromised over the six years before 2015. The American Action Forum estimates that all the breaches since 2009 have cost the healthcare system $50.6 billion.
"The dramatic increase in the average number of records compromised in a single breach is alarming and may be a consequence of the more connected health care system for which we are striving," the paper says.
Breaches have resulted in patients' names, addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers and health records being exposed. Most recently, an Indiana medical software company called Medical Informatics Engineering reported that its networks were hacked earlier this year, compromising the private information of 3.9 million people nationwide, the Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.
In 2009, Congress passed a law that created financial incentives for Medicare and Medicaid providers who achieve goals in using electronic medical records set up by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The intent was to speed up progress toward electronic medical records, also known as "EHRs," which can help providers better coordinate a patient's care, reduce medical errors and ultimately reduce healthcare spending. As of May, CMS had awarded an average of $65,000 to each provider using electronic medical records, totaling about $30 billion.
Doctors and hospitals have historically lagged far behind the rest of country in the use of information technology, with just 22 percent of office physicians and 12 percent of hospitals using a basic electronic record system when Congress passed the law in 2009.
Since then, there has been much progress in the number of providers using electronic health records, with 78 percent of physicians and 76 percent of hospitals now using them. But it's far from certain that the spending has achieved other goals for which it was intended.
Researchers have found that some providers showed higher costs for the first three years after transitioning to electronic records, in some cases because they started billing for more ancillary healthcare services they weren't charging for before.
Other researchers have found that the vast majority of providers aren't sharing electronic patient data outside their own practice, which has been an aim of the records. Just 14 percent of providers in 2013 were sharing data with other providers, according to a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Despite the roadblocks, most policymakers and healthcare experts agree that electronic records hold great promise for improving healthcare and reducing spending long-term.
"All of these potential advances could greatly improve health outcomes and help bend the health care cost curve," the American Action Forum paper concludes. "Unfortunately, these advances come with significant costs, both financially and in terms of personal privacy. Going forward, policymakers should work to ensure limited resources are used in a more cost-effective manner."