Medical records contain sensitive personal information, including financial account numbers and private health details. While most people think of hacking as a top data security threat, internal “snooping” by employees with access to records is also a problem.
Additionally, a lack of encryption means unauthorized individuals can sometimes view paper records. Here is why electronic records beat paper when it comes to keeping private health information safe from prying eyes.
Electronic Records May Stop Employees from Snooping
While it may be hard for employers to think of their employees as potentially untrustworthy, records custodians can’t be too careful when it comes to keeping their records secure. No matter how carefully you vet your workers, employee misconduct is an unfortunate reality. This is a serious problem for records custodians, who are obligated by law to safeguard protected health information.
According to a 2018 report, a medical school fired 13 employees for wrongfully accessing patient records. The report states, “Administrators at [South Carolina’s] top academic medical center discovered more than a dozen of its staff members had broken federal law in using records without permission, spying on files or disclosing patients’ personal information.”
Data security experts say that electronic records offer security features that simply aren’t available when an organization uses paper records. According to one expert, “Employees are granted access to medical records based on their jobs. Everything they do online is traceable back to them.” Unlike paper records, digital records create an electronic footprint that allows an organization to trace where an employee has been in the system.
Additionally, using electronic records means that businesses can grant access to authorized users, rather than trusting that only authorized individuals will view a record. Selective access is much more difficult to impose with paper records stored in a filing cabinet, storage closet, or file.
Electronic Records Can Be Encrypted
With a paper record, unauthorized photocopying, faxing, and sharing is easy because there is no way to stop someone from reading the record once they have it in their possession. The same is not true for electronic records, which can be protected with encryption. When an electronic record is encrypted, only the intended recipient can access and read it. Electronic records can be further protected with required logins and strong passwords. At ABI, we secure electronic records using an SSL connection, which ensures that only the intended recipient of the records is able to read them.
Paper Records Are Easier to Alter
While it’s possible to alter electronic records, it is much easier to change a paper record in a way that is nearly undetectable. This makes paper records vulnerable to tampering. With electronic records, audit trails are built into most systems. These audit trails document when an electronic record has been edited or altered. Many audit trails also identify which individual performed the changes.
According to Michael Cobb at Computer Weekly, “At the heart of most devices that provide protection for IT networks is an ability to log events and take actions based on those events… It provides security against lapses in perimeter and application defenses by alerting you to problems so defensive measures can be taken before any real damage is done. Without monitoring, you have little chance of discovering whether a live application is being attacked or has been compromised.”
Electronic Records Can Be Backed Up
Most businesses aren’t prepared for a major disaster. Claims Journal cites a Nationwide Insurance survey that reports that 75 percent of small business owners don’t have a disaster recovery plan. This is problematic for businesses of sizes, but it’s especially concerning for small businesses that typically lack the resources to recover from a major disaster, such as a flood, fire, or long-term loss of electricity.
In fact, the same report revealed that 25 percent of businesses don’t reopen after suffering a major disaster. Whether a business is taken offline due to a flood, data breach, or fire, having electronic backups of records and documents can mean the difference between getting back up and running and shutting off the lights for good.
Other Benefits of Electronic Records
Electronic records can be more secure than paper, but they also offer three additional and important benefits.
- Save Time – One of the main reasons businesses make the switch from paper to electronic records is the time savings. When you store paper records and a record retrieval company requests them, complying with the request can mean days or weeks of trying to locate old records in a warehouse or storage facility. With electronic records, however, searching is simple and fast. And once you’ve identified the appropriate records, you can deliver them electronically through an encrypted system.
- Save Money – According to Matt Peterson at Corp! Magazine, U.S. businesses waste $8 billion every year on paper — “$20 to file a document, $120 to find a misplaced document, and $220 to reproduce a lost document.” When you use electronic records, you save on resources. Maintaining paper records requires more employees and more storage space. With electronic records, you can eliminate this overhead and free up employees to work on other tasks.
- Help the Environment – The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper every year. With deforestation a major concern, every bit of paper conservation has the potential to help. Going green is also good for business. According to a Nielsen study, three out of four people surveyed said they would pay extra for sustainable products and services. The numbers are the highest among the youngest generation of consumers, who say they prefer companies that have adopted sustainable practices.
Call ABI to Learn More
At ABI, we are the industry leaders in record retrieval. We have helped law firms and claims offices get the records they need quickly and reliably for more than 30 years. To learn more, contact us online or give us a call at 800-266-0613.