The modern age has been swiftly transitioning the world into the digital space on all fronts, and that includes some of the most personal aspects of people’s lives. Medical institutions have been conforming to this trend as well, as more hospitals begin to utilize these advancements for enhanced services, health insurance technology, and an overall improved experience for patients.
However, digitalized healthcare services are not immune to the same issues that continue to plague most of the technology industry—most prominent of those being concerns regarding data privacy and security. Various national governments around the world have started to investigate these cases in response to a growing global concern about the safety of people’s personal information.
While context tends to differ from place to place, there are four main concerns that standout most when it comes to the risks of sharing healthcare data in any part of the world.
Data Privacy and Security
Having our data accessible no matter where it’s needed is convenient both for patients and for hospitals. Rather than having to comb through physical files and search through storage rooms, hospitals can call up patient records almost automatically with the latest cloud-based software platforms. The advancement of online technology also means that data can be stored and transferred through the cloud, allowing transfers of patient records between hospitals to be seamless and immediate. However, this flexibility also comes with great security risks, as digital criminals develop more ways to attack and exploit this technology as well.
The number one concern on this front is that this data can be breached. Hackers and groups can gain unwanted access to anyone’s healthcare data, and they can use it for unethical activity or leak information on people of interest. To make matters worse, healthcare data could contain loosely guarded personal information, such as an individual’s social security information, date of birth, medical history, or residence, that can be used to create fraudulent accounts and transactions by those who might wish to steal it.
More Personal Information
Although medical institutions have been quick to shift their operations further and further into the digital space, it’s no surprise that technology companies who remain in the lead in this regard tend to have more access to the public health data than even some of the best hospitals and insurance companies. The rise of wearable technology and health tracking integrated into mobile devices has allowed tech giants to receive information on wearers that are as granular and as sensitive as blood-oxygen levels, sleep patterns, and even ECG measurements.
Furthermore, the ubiquity of health and fitness apps has convinced most users to provide more detailed health information for a more personal profile. In almost all cases, users willingly consent to giving up this data. Meanwhile, some of these companies offer emergency services through these platforms by contacting the nearest health institution and sending this data, including user location, in the event of a health predicament or accident. While convenient and useful during an emergency, this immediate availability of so much personal information raises the question of how much of this information should be considered too much for these institutions to hold so easily at any time.
While tech companies may promise to send this data to medical practitioners during emergencies, this isn’t to say that they can hold all of this information for other purposes. Since they aren’t actually in the medical industry, these companies are often not bound by the same restrictions on keeping this data.
This means that they can involve third-party entities for personalized advertising and intrusive data tracking, among other unscrupulous activities. Some parties may even use this information to direct misleading information towards individuals who they believe can be convinced to purchase products marketed as being beneficial for health. It’s become a global concern in healthcare that patients could be reduced to potential sales prospects for this kind of targeted marketing.
Discrimination and Employment
While it might not seem likely at first, there still remains the danger that people’s data can be provided by tech corporations to employers and other companies. Such a setup is conducive to employment prejudice; companies can simply reject applicants found to have pre-existing health risks.
Furthermore, insurance companies may wish to access most of this data to use as basis for denying insurance or to adjust pricing for those they know to be more vulnerable to illness. While these sorts of activities seem highly unethical and improbable, the possibility surely remains, and modern technology has permitted such activities to happen completely outside of the public eye.
Although many of these dangers remain pressing concerns for many people around the world, this isn’t to say that nothing is being done to improve the security of healthcare data while continuing to advance medical technology. There are medical institutions established specifically to develop software solutions to mitigate both present issues and potential concerns regarding healthcare data privacy. However, companies in the healthcare space should continue to be more proactive and transparent about how their patients’ data and personal information is being used.