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Digital health shift has benefits but also privacy challenges

‘Health is where data protection and privacy meet body autonomy’
Photo: Health care workers on the job in a hospital/Shutterstock

Shifting quickly to providing health care digitally due to the pandemic has produced benefits for both patients and health care providers, but also challenges in managing resulting data, experts in the field said May 6.

While people have readily accepted the new reality, Vancouver International Privacy & Security Summit online conference delegates heard that healthcare and commercial organizations want to control and safeguard patient and customer relationships and their data 

“Health is where data protection and privacy meet body autonomy,” said Stan Croxley, co-director of Indian University’s Center for Law, Ethics, and Applied Research in Health Information.

UBC School of Information associate professor Dr. Victoria Lemieux said the shift to digital health care has changed the way people interact with caregivers. She said people rightly have security concerns in an age where a breached medical file can net a cybercrook $1,000.

“This is highly valuable and prized data,” she said. “Health information can compromise a person’s privacy.”

But, she said, technologies are in use or coming that will allow people to control their health care data and how it is used. 

Another shift in the health provider-patient relationship has been an equalization of roles, said University of Calgary Department of Psychiatry assistant professor Dr. Rob Tanguay. That’s because people are no longer going to doctor’s offices where the doctor sets the rules. Now, doctors are seeing people where they’re at – be it in their living room or on a train.

Moreover, Tanguay said, the ability for people to interact from wherever they are has increased patient retention rates, allowing treatment to be uninterrupted.

However, warned cybersecurity expert Ajay Sood, we live in unprecedented times with wave after wave of cyberattacks. And, he said, those attacks are now less aimed at infrastructure than at people and their data.

And that engages questions about who is responsible for data once it is breached, Sood said.

Further compounding problems, Sood said, is that in hard economic times there is less money and fewer people to fight a “formidable enemy.”

And that, he said, is the paradox of the situation: more data than ever before but fewer people to manage it.

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