Big data privacy concerns linger despite potential for healthcare

While big data increasingly is being used as a tool to directly bolster patient care and could help to cut as much as $450 billion in costs from the U.S. healthcare system, some experts have tempered their expectations of its effectiveness in healthcare and beyond, citing privacy concerns.

For instance, earlier this month at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation Health IT Summit in Boston, Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative President and CEO Micky Tripathi talked about the challenges associated with sifting through "massive volumes of patient data," according to HealthITSecurity.

Tripathi specifically discussed the use of data stored in the state's All-Payer Claims Database, saying that consent issues have been ongoing.

"It's a big conversation now as to whether consent is required to APCD data. You start to think 'Wait a minute, they get the data directly from Blue Cross, they don't need consent because it's their own claims data.' But because it's going through the state government infrastructure, the APCD, now they have to get consent to get that same data. … It is complicated; every stone you lift up, there will be more and more issues underneath it," Tripathi said.

A trio of Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors--Andrew Lo, Dimitris Bertsimas and Alex Pentland--speaking at a CIO symposium earlier this month in Cambridge, Mass., also expressed concerns about privacy and compliance, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

"Privacy is a huge issue when it comes to big data," Lo told the newspaper.

Despite such concerns, many continue to remain upbeat about big data's potential. In a recent commentary posted to MedCity News, Mark Tobias, president of Arlington, Va.-based software company Pantheon, references a new book by Eric Siegel, Ph.D., executive editor of the Predictive Analytics Times, in outlining how predictive analytics will allow electronic health records to tailor patient guidance to be more proactive than reactive.

"The implications for improving health are profound," Tobias said. "With more real-time, personalized data from a range of sources, generic prevention messages like 'stop smoking,' 'exercise'  and 'lose weight' become personally relevant."

A report published earlier this month by the Institute of Health Technology Transformation called analytics the key to population health management and accountable care organizations.

Meanwhile, in late February, Deloitte and Intermountain Healthcare publicly announced a partnership to help the healthcare industry to harness big data and analytics from Intermountain.

To learn more:
- check out the HealthITSecurity news
- read the MedCity News post
- here's the Wall Street Journal article

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