Safeguarding health data
June 27, 2017
Data analytics, increasingly used in health care, can promote cures and deliver efficiencies, but massive data collection about individual health and social status may lead to loss of privacy, unequal treatment, and the perpetuation of health inequality, says Virginia Tech business law professor Janine Hiller.
Technology and legislation are transforming health care in the United States, Hiller says. Among the developments of concern are the ubiquitous collection of health and lifestyle information and the increasing commercialization of that data.
Photo of Professor Janine Hiller
WHAT PARTICULARLY CONCERNS Janine Hiller is the secondary use of health data by employers, insurers, marketers, and others.
In a recent journal article, Hiller notes that harm is done in several ways, including an overreliance on data to produce cost savings; the unquestioned collection and use of data; and the unaudited use of data analytics.
Asking the hard questions
Her article seeks to discuss broad, societal questions, Hiller says. “It’s not just about data, but about how we should use the data responsibly and ethically to make decisions about people’s lives and health.”
Noting the adage about “not seeing the forest for the trees,” Hiller says: “When lots of talented people in the data and health care worlds work on solving problems, it can be difficult to see how all those efforts might add up to potential problems in the wider context.
The more we depend on data to solve health problems, the more we look outside the health system — and into data about the way people live their personal lives: who they associate with, what they eat, and what their financial problems are. All these stressors can affect health.” Read more.