Big Data in Healthcare: A Cause for Concern? | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

A federal advisory panel has kicked off discussions about the privacy and security challenges related to the use of big data in healthcare, with a goal of making policy recommendations in the coming weeks.


During the Jan. 12 meeting of the Health IT Policy Committee's Privacy and Security Workgroup - formerly called the Tiger Team - members began sorting through a number of key big data themes that emerged from two public hearings the group hosted in December. The workgroup and the committee will make recommendations to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, which could ultimately lead to new policies from the Department of Health and Human Services.


Last month's hearings included testimony from a number of stakeholders from various segments of the healthcare sector. For instance, testimony highlighted that while analyzing big data can bring big potential benefits, including better treatment outcomes and lower costs, it also can bring privacy risks to individuals, says workgroup Chair Deven McGraw, an attorney at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

The workgroup will now help to assess whether the nation has the right policy framework in place "in order to maximize what is good about what health data presents for us, while addressing the concerns that are raised," McGraw says.

Big Data Challenges

Big data concerns that emerged from the hearings in December included whether various "tools" that are commonly used to help protect an individual's health data privacy are sufficient, given the complexities of various big data use cases, McGraw says.

Those "tools" include data de-identification methods; patient consent; transparency to patients and consumers about how their data might be used; various practices related to data collection, use and purpose; and security measures to protect data.

Other concerns arising from the testimony that the workgroup plans to dig into relate to the legal landscape, such as whether there are regulatory gaps in HIPAA and other laws regarding keeping health data used for big data analytics private.

The workgroup, which will continue its discussion on Jan. 26, will also consider the harm that could be caused if big data is not kept private, including discrimination, medical identity theft, and mistrust of the healthcare system.

In early February, however, the workgroup will temporarily shift gears to discuss ONC's 10-year interoperability roadmap, which is expected to be released in late January. The roadmap will focus on secure health data exchange.

Nevertheless, the workgroup hopes to hammer out some preliminary findings or early recommendations about protecting big data so that it can make a presentation at the March 10 meeting of the HIT Policy Committee, McGraw says.