PrivatelyExposed

A Blog dedicated to exploring privacy and technology

When Privacy Hurts

Posted by Wayne on October 30, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Cloud Healthcare Summit sponsored by Microsoft and Capstone Partners in Boston. I generally find the networking at these events to be the best part of the event because I get to meet new people and catch up with old friends. If I also get to come way with ONE good thought or idea then I really consider myself ahead of the game. At this particular summit I learned several things that I think are going to be key to the understanding privacy as it relates to healthcare.

First and foremost the folks on the panel at this event were top-notch with amazing careers, education, and passion. Four out of the five panelists were software/solutions people who have spent decades working in the healthcare (HC)  industry trying to solve HC problems. The fifth person on the panel was the CIO from a large HC provider/hospital network (awesome to have a HC cloud customer on the panel).

The thing that resonated with me most was they all had problems with information silo’s (the customer and the providers). Systems that don’t work together and that aren’t designed to share information or that don’t provide mechanisms to even find information that is in the systems. Combined with these silo’s are what seems to be an age-old problem that has been solved for some time by larger enterprises – hardcopy information (or “trapped”) that has to be manually sorted, filed, updated and searched. Apparently HC still relies heavily on paper copies (yes nurse, I have filled out that form already 10 times – I swear).  Add to this they also are constrained by privacy issues.

WHAT? Did I just say “constrained by privacy issues“? Yes I did, and as a personal advocate for improving our privacy stance through education, technology, and regulation this may seem as a surprise to some. One of the entrepeneurs on the panel who also happened to be an MD took some time to give me a different view by explaining the artificial ceiling that regulation and policy has created with regard to patient data. From his perspective these have a three-fold impact on the HC business:

  1. Innovation is stifled – being unable to take samples of data and perform analytics on them or share information across systems.
  2. Research is slowed down – one example was being unable to take significant samples to provide statistically meaningful results has forced researchers to hoard the data they get because it is so hard to acquire and is tied to their ability to get future funding. 
  3. Medical errors are higher – consider being in an emergency situation where your records first have to be released then sent by currier or faxed or mailed via USPS. All these affect timely and responsive outcomes that impact a patients safety.

What this all boils down to is that privacy has to live by the same rule that security does – controls must be strong enough to protect while still enabling efficient and effective use. Technologies such as the cloud, bigdata, and XBRL are all technologies that will enable HC improvements but only if regulations and policies in HC change with the innovations. Regulatory efforts  such as HITECH are heading in the right direction – but as always we must find the right balance between protecting our liberties and safety as patients while improving medical science by leveraging information technology in new ways never possible before.

As always – looking forward to your comments!

/wayne

References:

http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/110/hit2.pdf

http://www.thehealthcareblog.com/the_health_care_blog/2009/03/for-whom-the-hitech-bill-tolls.html

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