New research suggests that your personal health information may be at higher risk of exposure in certain types of hospitals. But there are steps you can take to secure your info.

You may never have considered whether your preferred hospital is one of the approximately 311 major teaching hospitals in the U.S., but according to a new study, the type of hospital you choose might affect your privacy. Teaching hospitals are often affiliated with medical schools, which use the facilities to help train future doctors. And the new report, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that these hospitals—which tend to be larger and have more people handling patient records—may be more likely to experience data breaches.

Hospital data breaches are a fairly regular occurrence these days and can result in your Social Security number, health insurance ID, and other personal information being exposed and misused. For instance, your info may be used to perpetrate medical identity fraud—in which someone else obtains medical care in your name and leaves you with the bills and falsified medical records.

But data breaches affect more than just hospitals—health insurers, doctors’ offices, and other types of medical facilities have all been targeted. Personal patient information was compromised more than once per day, on average, across the healthcare industry last year, according to healthcare data security firm Protenus.

What the Study Found and What It Means
In this study, researchers evaluated the reports hospitals must make to the Department of Health and Human Services and the media whenever the personal information of 500 or more people is breached. (People whose information is divulged must also be notified.)

The hospitals that reported data breaches to HHS were more likely to be major teaching hospitals than smaller teaching hospitals or nonteaching hospitals.

Major teaching hospitals may be more vulnerable to breaches because more people at them (who are also conducting medical research and educating new healthcare professionals) can view private patient data. The more people who can access data, the less secure it is.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid major teaching hospitals, which often offer cutting-edge treatment and give patients generous amounts of attention. But you should take steps to help secure your personal information and reduce the risk of fraud if your information does get exposed.

How to Protect Your Personal Information

  • Limit the personal information you provide.
  • Ask healthcare providers and staff how they protect patient information.
  • Be cautious about revealing any health or medical information on social media.
  • Read all correspondence from your healthcare providers, including your health insurer.
  • Act fast if you spot something concerning.
  • Ask what steps will be taken in the event of a breach.

Click here to read the full article.

By Catherine Roberts, April 3, 2017, Consumer Reports