Colorado Substance Abuse Treatment Audit Reveals Gaps in Data Security

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The Office of Behavioral Health in Colorado gathers pertinent information on thousands of substance abuse addicts receiving treatment every year. Unfortunately, a recent audit has discovered that policies put in place to uphold the security of such data have not been thoroughly followed by the office.

Data May Be Vulnerable as a Result of Lapses in Data Security

According to the audit, an improvement in the coordination between the Office of Behavioral Health and the Colorado Office of Information Technology is urgently needed as the findings of the audit point to a vulnerability in personal data.

In particular, a significant gap in communication between such state agencies that collect, assess, manage, and store data exists. The issue of how data is being protected by state agencies must now be addressed.

The recent audit discovered that officials with Colorado’s Office of Behavioral Health sometimes allowed data to be accessed by former employees and previous third-party treatment providers, despite no longer having any association with the office. It was also found that the confidentiality of data may have been compromised as a result of the failure to ensure that office staff sign necessary agreements.

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How patient data has been managed, stored, and communicated between state agencies has fallen short of the policies surrounding data security.

Data may have been further breached thanks to the office failing to ensure that regularly scheduled data destruction actually took place. For instance, it is part of the office’s policy to destroy any information about a patient’s Colorado addiction treatment 10 years following discharge of the patient.

However, it was discovered that data was only destroyed once between 2012 and 2018 rather than every year. That means there is likely still some data older than 10 years remaining that should have been destroyed.

Centralization of the Office of Information Technology May Be Partly to Blame

The Office of Information Technology was established a decade ago in an effort to consolidate the technology behind Colorado’s collection and storage of personal data related to patients in Colorado addiction treatment.

While the entity was put in place to resolve issues of expensive technological issues that took place across several state departments, such centralization of technology has made electronic data coordination a challenge. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that data security, in particular, has not been effectively dealt with and overseen by a single point of contact.

Why is Data Management and Security of Importance in the Substance Abuse Area?

Many addicts who seek treatment have opportunities to obtain proper health care through the synthesis of both primary and specialty care. The ability for various health care providers to share information about patients is beneficial for addicts in Colorado addiction treatment because it allows for faster and more effective coordination of treatment.

When communicated appropriately and safely, patient data exchanged electronically can improve the quality, competence, and safety of health care.

Yet while the implementation of electronic exchanges and storage of patient data offers opportunities for better integration of health care, patient privacy may also be at risk for privacy issues. Patient privacy becomes vulnerable through the electronic exchange of health records if the necessary security steps are not taken.

Of course, addicts prefer to seek treatment for substance abuse with a certain amount of anonymity and do not necessarily want their information to land in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, the recently discovered gaps in data security among state agencies do not provide addicts and health care providers serving them with the security that is typically expected with such sensitive information.

Final Thoughts

Privacy issues regarding patient data are extremely sensitive and important for patients being treated for substance abuse. Yet the recent findings from the audit conducted on electronic data exchange between state agencies and offices and the management of such data is concerning. Time will tell how quickly interventions will be implemented to close the gaps discovered in data security of patients seeking treatment for substance abuse.

If you are currently struggling with addiction, contact us today to learn about admissions. Our addiction specialists are standing by to discuss your concerns confidentially.

Colorado Substance Abuse Treatment Audit Reveals Gaps in Data Security
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