Results of the The Harris Poll of 2,454 adults surveyed online between June 9 and 16, 2008, which was designed in collaboration with Alan F. Westin, professor of public law and government emeritus at Columbia University, include:

  • Among those who have heard about medical records being lost or stolen, seven percent believe that either they (or a family member) may have had their personal medical records lost or stolen. This represents about 4 percent of all adults and translates into approximately nine million people.
  • About seven in 10 (69 percent) of adults have either read or heard about medical records with personal health information being lost or stolen from doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals, health insurers, employers or government agencies. The remaining 31 percent have not read or heard about this issue. For over two-thirds of the general public to recall hearing about medical data breaches is a very high topic awareness figure.
  • When asked which medical records -- computerized or paper -- they believe may be lost or stolen most often, just under half (47 percent) think it is computerized records. About one in six (16 percent) think that paper records may be lost or stolen most often. Another quarter (23 percent) think that both computerized and paper records may be lost or stolen about equally.
  • Among those who have either heard about medical information being lost or stolen or have had the information lost, the percentage of those who think computerized records are lost most often increase to 51 percent and 54 percent.

So What?

In the past few years, a number of health care facilities, employers, government agencies or other organizations have acknowledged that confidential medical information was stolen or lost. Recent examples of these "medical breaches" include the University of Miami, WellPoint, The National Institutes on Health, the Cleveland Clinic, CVS, J&J Home Health and Baptist Health. Further, the Identity Theft Resource Center reported over 50 breaches from health care providers in the first six months of 2008.

Ultimately, while the responses in this poll may not represent actual breaches of medical information, there are a significant number of Americans who believe their personal medical information has been compromised by organizations holding it.

According to Westin, "For this poll we were trying to measure perceptions among the public of having suffered a loss or theft of medical records or health information from health information holders. This is whether or not any outright medical identity theft (use of stolen medical data to obtain valuable medical services) took place. The harms involved in loss or theft of medical records involve not just worries about medical identity theft but also feelings of personal violation and fears of potential misuse or publication of sensitive medical information."