Growing Number of Healthcare Data Breaches and Rise in Medical Identity Theft Underscore Need for Greater Concern About Health Data Safety


Atlanta, Ga., July 24, 2018 – Americans may have a false sense of security about the privacy and safety of their personal medical information, suggests a new survey from SCOUT, a healthcare marketing agency specializing in rare diseases.

The survey, conducted with The Harris Poll as part of a new research series called SCOUT Rare Insights, found that less than half of American adults (49 percent) are extremely or very concerned about the security of their personal health information (e.g., diagnoses, health history, test results), despite a mounting number of medical data breaches and a booming market in medical identity theft.

By contrast, 69 percent of U.S. adults said they are extremely or very concerned about the security of their personal financial information (e.g., credit card details, bank account numbers, financial passwords). 

“We need to be much more aware and concerned about the safety of our health data,” said Raffi Siyahian, principal at SCOUT. “First, the risk of having your medical data exposed is pretty significant. And second, the consequences of someone gaining unauthorized access to your personal health information can be far more damaging than having someone illegally access your personal financial information.”

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, healthcare data breaches are on the rise, with millions of medical records being lost, stolen or inappropriately disclosed each year. Some breaches result in the exposure of extremely sensitive data — last year more than 7,000 patients of a Manhattan hospital center had their private health information revealed online, linking their names and home addresses to such details as their medical and mental health diagnoses, HIV status, addiction histories, and exposure to domestic violence.

The thriving business of medical identity theft is another threat to the safety of personal health information. Stolen medical files command top dollar because criminals can use them in a multitude of ways, from obtaining prescription drugs and expensive medical services to perpetuating insurance and tax fraud.

“If your financial information is stolen, your bank will usually tip you off pretty quickly and there are laws in place to help limit your liability,” said Siyahian. “By contrast, it can take months to spot something unusual in your medical record, and there aren’t the same protections to reduce your damages. We need to guard and monitor our health insurance cards and medical service statements as rigorously as we guard and monitor our credit cards and bank statements.”

In other findings, the Scout Rare Insights survey revealed that only 36 percent of American adults currently use an online portal to access their personal health information, with those aged 35 and up more likely to use a portal than those aged 18 to 34 (39 percent vs. 28 percent). Among the 64 percent of U.S. adults who choose not to use an online health portal, the top reasons cited were a preference for discussing their health in person (47 percent) and concerns about the security of accessing their health information online (39 percent).

The survey also found that the type of personal health information Americans are most concerned about being mishandled or shared without their permission is information related to diagnosed medical conditions and diseases (31 percent).

About SCOUT Rare Insights

SCOUT Rare Insights is a new series of survey-based reports examining topical issues from a healthcare perspective. The surveys will be sponsored by SCOUT and conducted by The Harris Poll. Both companies are members of The Stagwell Group.

About the Survey

This first SCOUT Rare Insights survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll from May 10-14, 2018 among 2,033 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, contact Raffi Siyahian at [email protected].


SCOUT is a leading healthcare marketing firm with special expertise in rare diseases, orphan drugs and specialty pharmaceuticals. Headquartered in Atlanta, with additional offices in Chicago, San Diego and New York, the company has successfully helped clients achieve their business and brand goals since 1999. A separate division of the company is a driving force in consumer marketing. To learn more, visit

About The Harris Poll

The Harris Poll, part of Harris Insights & Analytics, is one of the longest running surveys in the U.S., tracking public opinion, motivations and social sentiment since 1963. The company works with clients in three primary areas: building corporate reputation, crafting brand strategy and performance tracking, and earning organic media through public relations research. Learn more by visiting