Balancing security, privacy and insight on how to best manage healthcare data

Balancing security, privacy and insight on how to best manage healthcare data

As many speakers touched on at the recent CeBIT digital healthcare conference, those who work with healthcare data have to walk a fine line between privacy and using it to create innovative outcomes for patients.

Dr Tony Sara, Medical Advisor for the South Eastern Sydney Local Health district noted the high responsibility, ‘if we get it wrong, we can really harm the patient.’

Both Dr Sara and Melanie Drayton, Assistant Commissioner both stressed the need for technology providers to think heavily about cybersecurity protocols at the infant stage of a project. As Dr Sara found, ‘If you don’t build it in from the outset it will ultimately cost you a lot more to build it at a late stage. We found a study that said that 70% of healthcare apps were insecure. We’ve accessed apps in the local industry that we found to be completely open.’

Drayton added to that by saying, ‘Our office can really see the benefit of drawing on data and making good policy decisions. Our approach is when you are being innovative with data, you’re also being responsible and thinking about privacy from the outset - doing assessments discovering where the risks are at that first stage.’

One of the benefits of drawing on data is uncovering patterns and making connections between behaviours. Dr Kannan Subramaniam recounts how they found that glaucoma patients weren’t taking their medication (which can lead to blindness). ‘One bright spark decided to check the Medicare database to see whether patients were filling their prescriptions on a regular basis. He discovered that after 3 months there was a significant drop-off rate. This insight led us to examine the practices and helped practitioners think about their approach to health literacy.’

All three panelists cited interoperability as another hurdle in gaining access and sharing data. As Dr Subramaniam observed, ‘it’s a major issue and has been for a long time. For example a patient may have to go to Western Sydney and then to Central Sydney, but the two systems might not talk to each other. Without access to that data, [as a practitioner] you have to start all over again to uncover the cause of the illness or injury and by doing that, you risk mistreating the patient.’

The way forward, according to Dr Sara summed it up by stating, ‘we need to agree on where we are going and to focus and the end-game of patient care. It’s very difficult to teach computers how to be doctors, but it is possible to teach practitioners how to work computers. We need more people who can speak both languages and bridge that divide.’

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