Michael Koploy, an analyst with the excellent consultancy Software Advice, has put together this week some interesting data that shows the true story of security breaches concerning electronic medical records. He found that contrary to popular opinion, storing this information online makes this information no more insecure than, say, accessing your bank account. Many of the exploits had to do with common, unsexy things such as stealing paper records and laptops or hard drives from doctor's offices containing patient information.

Koploy's article is worth taking a closer look. The US Department of Health and Human Services is publishing all breaches that involve more than 500 people. There are close to 300 violations on its "wall of shame" that cover a wide variety of situations. To his surprise, most of the more egregious ones involve petty theft and carelessness:

  • 6,800 paper records that were supposedly mailed but never received;
  • An impostor posing as a recycling-service employee stealing over 1,300 individuals' records and films; and,
  • A laptop stolen by a former employee that contained personal health records of over 50,000 patients.

Four thefts over 2009-2011 account for more than six million medical records being compromised, and each of these four have nothing to do with cloud-based systems being compromised. These four events together account for more than half of the records reported by HHS where patient data potentially was exposed.

When he drills down to find any cloud-based incidents, he could only find seven events involving electronic medical records, including one situation where a truckload of hard drives was lost in transit on their way to being destroyed. "All seven violations involved on-premise systems. Considering the flack cloud systems have received, in general, this is a great vindication for the cloud." He states that paper records and physical security are still the weak links in any medical records system, not the cloud. "Web-based EMRs eliminate the most common security risks because there aren't physical files to be compromised."

This shows how sometimes it is worth taking a closer look at the data before jumping to any conclusions. "I bet more hackers want my credit card information than my HDL/LDL ratio." (That's cholesterol, not computing!)