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PCAST: Update health privacy frameworks for big data usage

By Patrick Ouellette

- Will current privacy and security frameworks scale to the healthcare industry’s needs in the future? According to a recent President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report, the modernization of the healthcare data privacy framework may be necessary, but will require all stakeholders to be on board with the plan.

The confluence of big data research and opportunities and patient privacy trepidation continues to be a major topic at a federal level and PCAST’s Big Data: A Technological Perspective report weighed the technical capabilities to collect vast quantities of data against privacy and security fears.

Along with private sector considerations, PCAST reviewed the benefits of big data, as the greater volume of information available to clinicians has helped augment patient care and efficiency. The concept of preventative medicine, however, complicates the use of big data from a patient privacy perspective. As opposed to individual  data privacy, the concern is derived from groups or categories of people being used to identify diseases either prior to or very early after the onset of clinical symptoms.

The privacy frameworks that currently cover information now used in health may not be well suited to address these developments or facilitate the research that drives them. Using big data to improve health requires advanced analytical models to ingest multiple kinds of lifestyle, genomic, medical, and financial data.

PCAST concluded that the nation needs to adopt universal standards and an architecture that will “facilitate controlled access to information” across different types of records.

The complexity of complying with numerous laws when data is combined from various sources raises the potential need to carve out special data use authorities for the health care industry if it is to realize the potential health gains and cost reductions that could come from big data analytics.

At a high level, PCAST believes policy attention should focus more on the actual uses of big data and less on its collection and analysis. Read the full report here.

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