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Nov 13 2014   3:00PM GMT

Medical me: The intersection of patient privacy and health IT

Posted by: adelvecchio
Internet of Things, Patient engagement, patient privacy, Privacy and security

roberta-katzGuest post by Roberta Katz, director, healthcare solutions, EMC,  @Roberta_Katz, @EMCHealthcare

Based on the amount of data currently being produced, the digital universe is projected to double in size every two years and multiply tenfold between 2013 and 2020 — from 4.4 trillion gigabytes to 44 trillion gigabytes. A recent IDC study, “The Digital Universe of Opportunities: Rich Data and the Increasing Value of the Internet of Things,” revealed how the emergence of wireless technologies, smart products, and software-defined businesses will play a central role in expanding the volume of data.

At a 48% percent annual growth rate, the healthcare “digital galaxy” is growing even faster than the overall “digital universe.” In fact, more healthcare data is being generated than ever before, coming from cloud, big data, mobile, social media and electronic medical record sources. Healthcare providers need to be able to harness the useful, high value data produced during a patient care episode to gain insight into their patients’ conditions. This is particularly important as the population — with its higher rate of chronic diseases — continues to age, and advanced tools such as medical imaging, tracking devices, and sensors are used to remotely monitor patient physiological measures.

Because privacy and security of patient information is so critical at the point of care, trust between patients and providers is integral as it intersects across IT, patient engagement, and safer patient care delivery. Along with other industries, healthcare providers are working to balance security and privacy while they more efficiently manage, analyze, and share patient data for coordinated care.

To gain further understanding of these issues, The 2014 EMC Privacy Index surveyed 15,000 people in 15 countries to measure the relationship between online privacy and convenience. The U.S. ranks tenth among these 15 countries in its willingness to sacrifice privacy in return for greater convenience online, with 40% of Americans ready to give up some privacy for greater convenience.

The privacy irony

The Privacy Index illustrates the complexity of the privacy debate, providing three examples of how respondents are conflicted when it comes to choosing privacy or convenience.

  • We want it all paradox: Consumers say they want all conveniences and benefits of digital technology, yet say they are unwilling to sacrifice privacy to get them.
  • Take no action paradox: Although privacy risks directly impact many consumers, most say they take virtually no special action to protect their privacy — instead placing the responsibility on those handling their information such as government, healthcare organizations, and businesses
  • Social sharing paradox: Users of social media sites claim they value privacy, yet they say they freely share large quantities of personal data — despite expressing a lack of confidence and trust in those institutions to protect their information.

These same conflicts are present in healthcare.

  • We want it all paradox: A patient may like the convenience of telehealth, but may not always be open to allowing access to these services on their personal or home devices.
  • Take no action paradox: Some patients endanger the privacy of their sensitive health information by using the same password for multiple sites and accounts, and sometimes leave important medical records out in the open.
  • Social sharing paradox: How often has a patient shared a personal diagnosis or hospital experience on a social media site?

The Privacy Index dives even deeper into the healthcare privacy debate.

Medical privacy

People value easier access to their medical records, but only 47% are willing to give up confidentiality. Patients see the value and benefits of technology and may be more open in a healthcare setting, but they remain hesitant.

What’s contributing to this reluctance? A MeriTalk report, “Rx: ITaaS + Trust,” found that in the last year, 61% of global healthcare organizations experienced a security-related event in the form of a security breach, data loss, or unplanned downtime at least once. U.S. hospitals with 100 or more beds have spent more than $1.6 billion annually as a result of security incidents.

A recent hacker breach of shows that healthcare organizations can be targets for criminals. While no patient information was stolen, the incident should give consumers and the industry pause as outside threats will only make security more difficult.

Despite growing awareness of security breaches, compared to the five other personas examined in the Privacy Index (social me, financial me, citizen me, employee me, and consumer me), the medical me collectively has the highest confidence in healthcare organizations’ ethics (61%) and the second highest confidence in skills (62%). And, only 28% expressed concerns about future privacy. Part of this is explained in a recent Journal of AHIMA article, “Trusted Health IT and IT-as-a-Service: A Prescription for Change.”

As IT is a key enabler in delivering safer patient care at lower cost, many healthcare organizations are beginning to implement hybrid cloud models and IT as a Service, preparing to become the IT service provider of choice within their own networks and beyond.

For patients, this means a better sense of security knowing their healthcare provider is building a trusted hybrid cloud framework for coordinated care, which helps ensure the right data goes to the right caregiver at the right time.

About the author:

Roberta Katz is director of healthcare solutions at EMC where she focuses on helping healthcare organizations move their IT strategies forward as they invest in EMR and advanced medical imaging initiatives, cloud-based platforms, trusted IT, and big data and analytics solutions. Roberta has more than 25 years of health IT industry expertise in developing solutions to help improve patient care delivery, at the point of care, leveraging IT technologies.

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