Professor: Patients must 'get over' data-sharing fears

Patients and physicians "need to get over it" when it comes to fears and frustrations surrounding sharing healthcare records, David B. Agus, a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California, writes in a recent commentary published in the New York Times.

Big data is necessary to make medical breakthroughs and really create change within healthcare, he says.

"These digital databases offer an incredible opportunity to examine trends that will fundamentally change how doctors treat patients," Agus writes. "They will help develop cures, discover new uses for drugs and better track the spread of scary new illnesses like the Zika virus."

He mentions one case in 2015, where researchers at Stanford University and the Houston Methodist Research Institute, by analyzing clinical documents from millions of patients, found that a particular heartburn drug increased risk of heart attack. The conclusion, he says, was discovered through simply gathering enough patient data.

Another recent case showing the importance of accessing health data dealt with lead problems in the water source for Flint, Michigan. An area pediatrician used medical records of children whose blood had been tested at the hospital, and found elevated lead levels in their blood after the city started getting it water from the Flint River.

Agus also adds that sharing of medical information is leading to more security; however, healthcare still has far to go when it comes to keeping patient information safe.

Regardless, any new technology or effort will have risks, according to Agus, but each person has the potential to "be part of tomorrow's cures" by sharing their information. 

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