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Federal Advisers to Propose Legislative Changes Covering Big Data

The Health IT Policy Committee’s Privacy and Security Workgroup has been assessing a number of Big Data issues affecting the privacy and security of patients following on from two public hearings hosted by the group in December last year. The ultimate aim is for the workgroup to make a number of recommendations on policy to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, and ultimately to have these recommendations incorporated into new federal DHHS policies.

The public hearings allowed stakeholders to voice their concerns about the use of big data in healthcare, as well as to highlight the benefits it can bring such as improving patient care and treatment outcomes, while reducing operational costs. There is naturally a balance to be struck to ensure the benefits can be gained while privacy risks to individuals are minimized.

Having gained valuable information at the hearings, the workgroup now has the task of assessing current policies and determining whether the right framework is in place to gain the all important benefits while protecting patient privacy.

A number of concerns were raised last month including whether the current tools being used to protect patient data are in fact sufficient, given the complexity of data use cases and the potential for harm The methods which can be employed include obtaining patient consent forms and employing various methods of data de-identification to separate valuable data from personal identifiers – which could pose a risk to patients should data be exposed.

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Concern was raised about possible gaps in HIPAA regulations relating to the use of big data and whether legislation in its current form is sufficient and provides all of the necessary protections.

The discussions are set to continue later this month when the group meets on January 26, with one major focus being the potential harm that could be caused should big data not be kept private. The dangers of discrimination against individuals, identity and medical fraud are due to be discussed, along with the inevitable distrust of the healthcare industry that has developed after a number of high profile security breaches.

Some of the group’s preliminary findings will be presented on 10th March at the HIT Policy meeting. However, next month the group will be shifting its focus to the 10-year interoperability roadmap which is due to be issued by the ONC later this month.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.