IAPP_GPS17_CFP_300x250_v1
Webcon Ad_300x250_Radar_FINAL
PPS16-DC_Web_300x250-COPY

By Larry Dobrow

While making the case for his overhaul of the public healthcare system, President Obama has doted on one of its provisions: that all personal health records should be digitalized and melded into a single standard format within five years. Doing so, he believes, will reduce administrative headaches--one provider won't have to get on the phone with another to access a patient's hard-copy record--and thus bolster the overall quality of care. The medical community largely supports the digitalization push.

Thus in theory, computerizing health records makes all the sense in the world. In practice, however, the project will prove considerably more challenging.

Individuals who have participated in such projects caution that the digitalization of any large mass of sensitive data is an endeavor fraught with risk, especially from a privacy and security standpoint. They caution that creating a national privacy framework from the patchwork of laws and regulations currently governing the handling of this information could prove a political and practical migraine. And they say that the healthcare industry's rep for being slow to embrace new information technology isn't going to help matters much.

"Healthcare has traditionally been a laggard in this space," notes Steve Smerz, chief information officer and chief security officer of VisionShare, a firm which offers connectivity for healthcare entities. "In finance or even manufacturing, they've applied the technology and automated their businesses much more substantially than healthcare companies have. It's going to be hard to push things through."

Adds Lisa Gallagher, senior director of privacy and security for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society: "There's a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done concerning the records. We're operating in an environment where there are 50 different [state] privacy policies. Electronic health records pose many difficult issues on the policy and implementation levels."
 
It makes sense, then, that government officials entrusted with this project would look towards private entities, whether healthcare-focused or not, whose bottom lines depend upon the vigorous protection of sensitive personal data. Before they do, however, they'd be wise to heed the lessons still being learned by their counterparts in other nations.
 
Skepticism about Canada's transition to computerized health records perhaps has been exacerbated by reports of health privacy breaches. Headlines such as "300K patient files on stolen laptops" and "Albertans' health records exposed to computer hacker" don't exactly inspire confidence. Australian authorities entrusted with the online records push have been slowed by many of the same issues, with the country's privacy commissioner scolding her peers for pursuing privacy quick-fixes. And the seemingly regular headlines about breaches of electronic records within Britain's National Health Service should give cause to pondering by U.S. authorities.
 
The problem, say some, is one of both lax supervision--many of the companies and institutions handling the digital health records lacked a chief privacy officer or comparable individual responsible for overseeing the process--and poor coordination among the myriad players in the healthcare system.

"You can't just say 'we're going to do this.' Don't understate the role of public trust. There has to be plenty of explanation," notes Andro Hsu, science and policy liaison for 23andMe, which seeks to help individuals better understand their genetic information. 23andMe has proposed legislation in California to clarify existing privacy regulations and upgrade privacy protections.

Smerz puts it more succinctly: "Transparency is the key. If people feel that they know what the government is doing and not doing with their data, they're more comfortable with it."

The government must also heed the approach of private firms when it comes to data minimization (malfeasants can't steal information that isn't collected) and a major-league education process for any/all government employees who will handle the information on even an occasional basis (lesson one: storage on laptops = bad). It wouldn't hurt to do more than merely encrypt the data; extensive data masking, for instance, would render decoding the information enormously challenging.

Possible roadblocks include the readiness of healthcare system players. "With some of my customers, I find that they don't even have a firewall up in their data environment," says Smerz. And, of course, there remains a vocal minority who believe that no matter what the government does, it will never truly be able to guarantee the sanctity of the information. "You hear more about the failures than you do the successes," Smerz adds.

As for when the digitalization effort will proceed, Smerz and Gallagher believe the timetable offered up by the Obama administration might be a tad optimistic. Gallagher notes that there are "so, so many players" involved, while Smerz anticipates a series of "small wins" before the big ones occur. "Four years is not obtainable," Smerz adds flatly.

Both, however, cite momentum towards a solution and a willingness from most of the players involved to hammer out a privacy-sensitive solution. "We're in a care-giving environment," Gallagher says. "It's a time and place where peoples' intentions are good. If that's the general culture, this whole process can be a really positive thing."

Comments

If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.

Related

Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with other privacy pros, dive deep into a specialized topic or simply share a common interest, IAPP Communities are for you.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

We Need You! Call for Volunteers Opens Soon!

Advisory Board Leaders and KnowledgeNet Chapter Chairs call for volunteers opens Oct. 5. Don't miss out on your chance to lead!

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

NEW! Raise Staff Awareness

Equip all your data-handling staff to reduce privacy risk, with Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

Upcoming Web Conferences

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Team

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

NEW! FIP Designation

Recognizing the advanced knowledge and issue-spotting skills a privacy pro must attain in today’s complex world of data privacy.

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

IAPP-OneTrust PIA Platform

Simplify privacy impact assessments with this cloud-based customizable platform - free to IAPP members!

Privacy Vendor List

Find a privacy vendor to meet your needs with our filterable list of global service providers.

NEW! Raise Staff Awareness

Equip all your data-handling staff to reduce privacy risk, with Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials.

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with other privacy pros, dive deep into a specialized topic or simply share a common interest, IAPP Communities are for you.

More Resources »

Time to Get to Work at the Congress

Thought leadership, a thriving community and unrivaled education...the Congress prepares you for the challenges ahead. Register today.

GDPR Comprehensive London

Our third and final GDPR Comprehensive 2016 was a great success. London delegates spent two full days with world-recognized experts taking a guided tour of the GDPR.

Call for Speakers at Summit 2017

Are you an engaging speaker with privacy expertise to share? We want you! Submit a proposal today! The Call for Speakers closes Oct. 2, 2016.

GDPR's Top Impacts - Webcon Delivered in French

Rejoignez des experts pour en savoir plus : Les 10 conséquences pratiques les plus importantes du RGPD. S’inscrire maintenant.

Intensive Education at the Practical Privacy Series

The Series is returning to DC, this year spotlighting Data Breach, FTC and Consumer Privacy, GDPR and Government privacy issues. It’s the education you need now!

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»