Patient privacy slows healthcare sector's cloud adoption: EMC

Patient privacy slows healthcare sector's cloud adoption: EMC

Summary: Across the world, the healthcare sector is facing the challenge of protecting patient privacy while trying to keep up to date with technological innovations.

TOPICS: Cloud, Big Data, Health

The potential use cases of patient data within the healthcare system can be invaluable, according to Andy Crowne, senior director of EMC Industry Solutions Information Intelligence.

Speaking with ZDNet at EMC World 2014, Crowne said that big data — the data that is captured through patient information — can play a large role in helping the healthcare sector find cures and eventually prevent illnesses, but believes there's still a long way to go before it becomes a reality.

According to Crowne, while healthcare systems worldwide still need to make notable infrastructure developments to support data capture, such as moving to the cloud, the main challenge the sector faces is handling patient privacy.

"Healthcare started at platform zero, which is paper based, bypassed platform one completely because it was too expensive — and they couldn't afford mainframe systems except for big government entities — and now they're stuck at platform two and thinking about how to get platform three where cloud and mobile is," he said.

"Also, people are starting to get a little more comfortable with the concept of patient data in the cloud. You've got organisations like Microsoft and Google who have started the process of personal health records, so it's starting to move but it's going to move fairly slowly because of the patient privacy concern."

At the same time, even though the healthcare sector is responsible for protecting patient privacy, Crowne notes that there is also a concern that removing too much information from structured data could potentially become useless.

"You've got to provide anonymity so you can't tell which individual is which but that can take the value of the data out too. Information like age, sex, and ethnicity is something you need to know in order to collect proper data. That's why a lot of people turn to unstructured data where some information can be pixelated, similar to the way Google presents its maps," he said.

Although there is a yearning amongst the healthcare sector — particularly amongst younger, tech-savvy physicians to consume unstructured data in a more "physician-friendly" way, such as through a mobile device, Crowne said.

"It will become a lot more interesting to consume medical information once hospital organisations can figure out how to deliver it a more social friendly manner," he said.

Crowne also believes the future of medical information will be obtained through wearable technology.

"Wearable devices can capture information and that can be stored into the cloud. The way this information can be used, for example, is actually nudge people to do things like take more steps," he said.

"Or, if you're going for a procedure, such as a hip replacement, the patient can use a cloud-based system to allow customers to record and recall information on their mobile devices about their hip replacement, including the level of pain experienced, the duration of the procedure, and predicted recovery rate."

Despite the progress of data storage in the cloud being slow in the healthcare sector, Crowne said it'll eventually be a necessary step to take.

"Their existing paper-based systems are getting too expensive and the growth rate of information is becoming unsustainable — so something is going to have to change," he said, suggesting that national governments needs to set national records standards for the industry on how they can share information.

Aimee Chanthadavong travelled to EMC World 2014 in Las Vegas courtesy of EMC.

Topics: Cloud, Big Data, Health


Since completing a degree in journalism, Aimee has had her fair share of covering various topics, including business, retail, manufacturing, and travel. She continues to expand her repertoire as a tech journalist with ZDNet.

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  • Personal Data on Cloud.

    It is a double edged sword. Though at times of emergency it HELPS the individual concerned, i.e., medical emergencies, however such information is prone to misuse in the hands of others. Here, PRIVACY goes for a toss. It is system which help THE BIG BROTHER more than anyone else.
    P K Pal
  • The Big Issue

    Yes, it IS a double-edged sword. On one hand doctor's need to contact experts in specific areas and sharing that information can be critical to saving a life. On the other hand, how do you create a cloud that facilitates this without exposing your personal data to places such as Dropbox, Google, etc., that read/scan all data that passes through their services, maintains the right to publicly display your information and give give your information to not only government agencies but their third-party (advertising?) partners?

    Private clud will not facilitate this. The abovementioned public cloud structures claim exemption from HIPAA and HITECH which govern medical privacy. That is why there are hybrid systems out there for this specific reason.

    We could also be addressing other sensitive areas such as CJIS for criminal data privacy that many public clouds REFUSE to cooperate with and PCI-DSS for data containing your credit card information.

    People are worried about the NSA having all of your private information but I personally would prefer them to have it rather than companies that have the ability to use your personal data for commercial financial gain. It is just a bad business model. Big brother or not?

    But we are now talking medical data. I'm starting to get ads for diabetes items from companies I have not dealt with. Who are they? How did they find out? What else do they know? Does the employer know? Is it any of their business?

    If a public cloud structure cannot guaranty that the data will not be seen by employees who have not passed a background check, who may be in a foreign country not subject to U.S. privacy laws, who threaten to give the information to others, who allow government agencies to see the data with or without a specific warrant, then I'd rather have the risk of having the data not available in time of emergency than risk having this data become semi-public knowledge. Others may disagree. There must be a solution somewhere else.