Breaches, breaches everywhere. It seems there's no shortage of news about security breaches and their effect on healthcare. In an effort to better paint the picture of breaches in healthcare, Software Advice recently published research focusing on how recent HIPAA breaches, like the cyberattacks at Anthem and Premera Blue Cross, have impacted U.S. patients' trust, treatment and retention.

According to the organization, security experts warn that we're in the year of the healthcare hack. In light of recent high-profile security breaches at medical organizations, they anticipate patient data theft will increase. For this report, Software Advice surveyed patients on their fears of a breach and explored how software solutions can minimize data security risks.

A combined 45 percent of patients surveyed said they are "very" or "moderately concerned" about a security breach (which is defined as their medical records and/or insurance information being accessed without their consent and potentially resulting in identity theft). Of these, the highest percentage of respondents (47 percent) say they are concerned about becoming the victim of fraud or identity theft.

Additionally, nearly one-quarter of patients (21 percent) withhold personal health information from their doctors because of data security concerns. Also, only 8 percent of patients "always" read doctors' privacy and security policies before signing them, and just 10 percent are "very confident" they understand them.

The majority of patients (54 percent) are "moderately" or "very likely" to change doctors as a result of a health data breach, and patients said they are more likely to change doctors if their medical staff caused the breach than if it resulted from external forces like cyberattacks.

"Nearly half of all our patients tell us they're concerned about the security of their medical records; that's not surprising, given the recent cyberattacks on health insurance giant Anthem and hospital chain Community Health Systems that have made many Americans think twice about how their healthcare data is handled," Gaby Loria, a market researcher for Software Advice, said in a statement.

"The fact that 1 in 5 patients withhold information from their doctors due to data security concerns is a big wake-up call for the medical industry," Loria continued. "Twenty-one percent of people are not communicating openly with their physician and, more importantly, risking the quality of their healthcare. With such high stakes, it is important for doctors to pay attention to this crisis of confidence and build patient trust more effectively."

The report includes actionable advice for physicians hoping to boost patient trust, treatment and retention by highlighting strategies and software aimed at safeguarding medical information.

"Technology plays a major role in securing sensitive health care information," Loria said. "From EHRs that track who's been accessing records to encryption services that protect data from would-be thieves.

"Our data shows patients simply aren't engaging with the ways practices traditionally present their security and privacy policies," she added. "When only 8 percent of patients say they 'always' read these policies all the way through and just 10 percent are 'very confident' they understand them, it's a clear indication that the status quo is doing patients a disservice."

Moreover, the survey results showed patients are most likely to change doctors if their medical staff caused a data security breach, and least likely to switch providers if the source of the breach was external, e.g. a cyberattacker.

"Patients surveyed react more negatively to medical staff-related breaches than hacker-related ones," Loria added. "In other words, shortcomings in your staff management practices drive more patients away than vulnerabilities in your digital healthcare data storage system."