(HealthDay News) — The number of health data breaches has steadily increased since 2010, according to a research letter published in the Sept. 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Thomas H. McCoy Jr., M.D., and Roy H. Perlis, M.D., both from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, examined all breaches posted to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights breach database portal from 2010 through 2017. The authors analyzed secular trends in the number of breaches and number of records affected, breached media, and type of breach. They included 2,149 breaches comprising 176.4 million records.

The researchers found that individual breaches affected a range of 500 to 78.8 million records (median, 2,300 records; mean, 84,456). The number of breach reports increased each year, from 199 in 2010 to 344 in 2017, with the exception of 2015. Health care providers were the most common entity breached, accounting for 70 percent of breaches and 21 percent of the total records compromised. Health plan breaches (13 percent) accounted for the largest share of breached records (63 percent). Overall, the most common information media breached was paper or film (24 percent of breaches, but only 2 percent of records). Breaches of information from network servers (19 percent) accounted for the largest share of breached records (79 percent). Network servers and email were the most common media breaches in 2017.

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“Although networked digital health records have the potential to improve clinical care and facilitate learning health systems, they also have the potential for harm to vast numbers of patients at once if data security is not improved,” the authors write.

The authors disclosed financial ties to the health care industry.

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