Federal regulators say they will audit "business associates" of health insurers to see how those associates are handling personal health information.
The Office for Civil Rights, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) wants to verify whether insurers' associates -- including health insurance agents and brokers -- are complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) health information privacy and data security requirements.
See also: Office preps for HIPAA privacy audits
Meanwhile, some of the nastiest fights insurers and producers face involve allegations that health information privacy data security efforts are tying patients, health care providers, whistleblowers and patients' loved ones in knots.
Agents and brokers may run into HIPAA privacy concerns when they talk to a husband who is simply trying to help his wife clear up an insurance enrollment problem, when they rush an unconscious neighbor to the hospital, or even when they want to see their own medical records without jumping through a million time-consuming hoops.
Analysts at an arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the PwC Health Research Institute, have published data of their own on the consumer attitudes behind the conflicts that created and expanded the knots.
To learn more about what the PwC analysts found, read on.
1. Consumers are scared to death of privacy violations
The PwC analysts found a document on a Dell SecureWorks Inc. site in which security specialists suggested that some personal health records may sell for as much as $1,300 per record.
When PwC itself polled consumers, it found that consumers said they favored privacy over convenience for most health data.
For drug prescription information, 65 percent said privacy was more important.
For a doctor's notes and diagnoses, 73 percent said privacy was more important.
See also: Remember… HIPAA privacy?
2. But, actually, in the real world, consumers do want convenience
About 32 percent of the consumers PwC polled agreed that convenience was more important than privacy for diet and exercise information, and the PwC analysts quote a health carrier data security specialist who points out that consumers want access to health data on a frequently lost, and frequently stolen, device: The cell phone.
PwC analysts found that they could get consumers to open up to the idea of sharing health information by simply offering some attractive reason for doing so.
Consumers said they were willing to share health information to improve care coordination, and to support instant decision-making.
See also: AHIP Institute 2013: Price check
The PwC analysts mention the possibility that fear of data leaks could actually affect the quality of care patients get.
"Fifty-six percent of consumers said that concerns about the privacy and security of their medical information would affect their decisions to tell doctors 'everything' about their conditions," the analysts say. "Fifty-one percent said it would affect their decisions to participate in clinical trials."