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Introduction

            According to Hebda & Czar (2013), modern health care spectrum is complex given the nature of information flow between interrelated and interdependent institutions, service providers and individual persons. They observe that inside any hospital, this information is shared between the physicians, outsourced diagnostic services, pharmacies, laboratories, accounts departments, mobile health care providers, and rehab centers. The sharing of information is done through LAN, WAN and other wireless devices.

Khasrowpour (2006) notes that in the process of sharing such information, certain information may be accessed by individuals who by nature of their work, are not ethically bound to maintain confidentiality of such information or those who would, with ease, share such information with other unintended persons. This could be prevalent in information relating to chronic illnesses which require continuous tracking and management (Harman, 2006).

Odabi & Oluwasegun (2011) note that with the use of electronic health records (EHRs), the records become highly mobile and accessible. As much as this has increased efficiency in the operation of health institutions, it has also led to increased vulnerabilities on equal measure. The outcome of increased use of EHRs is that, more health care providers allow an access of so much data to the third parties. This has seen patients’ confidential information being revealed to the third party beyond the health care premises. This has led ,according to Eric(2012),to the office of the inspector General to name the integrity and honesty of electronic health data in its annual report, as one of the top ten management challenges.

Pursuant to this challenge, health organizations are engaging in a deliberate approach to cushion patient’s information for unauthorized access and use. These approaches are taking both a technological and human dimension (Hammond, 2004). Technologically, it entails creating and implementing an access control, authorization, and authentication policies that aim at ensuring that health information is secured. However, Stephens (2012) emphasizes that health care providers must undertake to ensure that risks are classified and assessed around data. This should be followed by implementing appropriate protection such as data encryption and data masking to prevent unauthorized exposure or worse still malicious use. As noted by Wager et.al (2009), an institution can also assign privileged user roles and closely monitor the activities of people with privileged interaction with database such as database administrators. 

Yet with advancement of technology, one cannot eliminate the human factor. Human factors could also be employed with an aim at encouraging change in perspective on how individuals who come into contact with the patient’s information deal with it. For instance, Harman (2006) observes that health care institutions should incarnate a culture of confidentiality and integrity among its personnel and project them as agents of change. This will require a new culture of awareness which can take some years to foster.

 A number of ramifications have been associated with health data breaches. These are both legal and institutional goodwill. According to a study conducted by Panemon Institute (2012), data breaches in health organizations are on the rise. As a result, millions of patients are at risk of both financial and medical fraud. Lorenzo et.al. (2010) observes that the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) introduced hefty fines and displinary actions for Protected Health Information (PHI) breaches. The Act also provides that health practitioners will held criminal responsibility for such breaches. Pike postulates that health organizations will also lose their reputation as a result of data breaches. This diminishes the health care’s brand thereby negatively affects its goodwill. This results into patients’ loss considering the longevity of the patients’ visit to the hospital which may be a death knell to such institutions.

Various methods can be employed to enhance security of health care data in health care institutions. Seismend Consortium (1996) recommends that data encryption and masking should be employed to avoid unauthorized use. Encryption is essential as it prevents unauthorized use whether on the disk underneath the database and applications, in development environments, in transmission, or on back up media. However, a balance should be struck so that in as much as safety of data is essential, it should be readily available to practitioners without complex decoding or decryption procedures for easier use.

In conclusion, it is important for safe custody of patient’s information to avoid related risks. However, the mode of ensuring that safety should not be so intricate so as to result to inefficiency and add into the costs.

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