Patient Privacy in the Digital Age
As technological exploration continues to impact various industries, the health care providers are not exempted for the changes around the globe. Application of technology in the health industry is fundamentally changing the focus towards value-based care. The growing trends in telemedicine, cloud technologies as well as innovations in data and mobile features continues to disrupt the healthcare industry activities. As these technologies enlighten the communities to which these innovations occur, the healthcare is forced to adopt customer-centered models to promote value through customer needs integration to the provider services. Moreover, the modern patient seeks to control their health decisions while the organizations have the responsibility to ensure work efficiency and the conducive environment through improved access to information and availability of decision-making tools among their employees. The trends in technological innovations to meet these demands are increasingly leading to “healthcare digitalization.” However, cyberthreat as well as confidentiality, present threats to the growing revolution.
Therefore, the research aims to investigate patient privacy in the changing healthcare digitalization phenomena. This understanding will help in the identification of the privacy issues faced by the customers as well as the providers’ interventions for policy formulation and other regulatory measures.
Change in Managing Privacy
The integration of digital initiatives into healthcare organizations can result in significant benefits for both the service provider and the patient. These interventions aim to improve efficiency, quality, and safety of the services. Although literature eludes to more significant benefits from the technological application in healthcare, the successful implementation of these systems requires a dynamic management process to the changing environment. While privacy or confidentiality has been a significant problem in the healthcare industry for decades, technological application to managing health services presents a new dimension and risks that the organizations are still struggling to maintain (Zhang, Qiu, Tsai, Hassan, & Alamri, 2017). As the implementation of this new technology revolves around electronic use; to manage, and share patient data for quick diagnosis and treatment, computer hacking is the most reported risk causing a breach to the systems. Authorities record intent to commit fraud, financial gains through selling persons identities and revenge as some of the motivational factors to hack the technological systems.
The clinical and research environments are changing to a reference system where data at different levels are collected stored at a central point such as google cloud networks where it can be shared across various platforms anytime using communication tools: Email, Short Message Services (SMS) and transmitted through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Broadband (Zhang et al. 2017). The integration of mobile computing devices to enable customers access this information shifts the traditional care of privacy from only the provider to the client as well since these devices fall out of the enterprise management jurisdiction.
The 1990s patient information security was based on strictly physical layers of consistent law enforcement beneath walls and motors but has since then changed to a cyber version in today’s world. These designs were formed based on the risk assessment by security experts and the IT officials (Zhang et al. 2017). Notably, this sensitive information was often centrally located in isolated physical locations in the data center. The process of accessing and use of this information is governed by the provisions of HITECH or HIPAA norms. Nonetheless, this process might not have been user-friendly and presented several challenges to both the patient and the scientific community for the advancement of studies hence low quality of care.
However, the introduction of cloud computing technologies for data changes the perspectives of information security in the 21st century. According to Zhang et al. (2017), The process now requires agility, awareness, and adaptability to the protective measure as personal information is increasingly linked to the person due to cloud computing (50). Moreover, a new perspective of protective information measure where the threat of access and the actual data to be protected must simultaneously be considered. In most cases, the first level of information security often does not require technical knowledge of the technology and software operations since its either the patient or the client setting. However, there is a need for understanding possible threats as well as attack interfaces to avoid or minimize the probability of the scenarios.
Moreover, study methodologies have also resulted in a shift in information management plan over the years. For example, most studies invite participants to register and participate in the research after downloading the respective mobile application and informed consent. As the validation and identity often occur after a period when meetings between the investigators and the sample population, the information is already at risk of landing to the wrong hand (Zhang et al. 2017). The unscrupulous individuals have the opportunity to pose as investigators and promise the clients confidentiality as a sheered. Subsequently, the unsuspecting patients always land into problems with numerous mobile applications whose capability and real intentions are often not mentioned to the patient. Thus, reading personal and sharing of the mobile-phone holder information. Therefore, as the technological advancements continue to present a challenge to the managing of information, both research, health institutions and individuals need to think of privacy issues from a risk perspective thus allowing the implementation of the mitigation procedures.
Improving Quality Despite Privacy Issues
Considerably, the crucial part of maintaining trust between healthcare professionals and the patients is the confidentiality of the private information shared. Patients who feel that the information is secure are often willing, to be honest, and share openly with health professionals. However, the increasing cases of risks associated with data breaches as healthcare information management systems changes to cloud computing threaten the confidentiality and the honesty of information patients will be willing to share. For example, there have been several cases of criminals and hackers using health care records of unsuspecting persons to commit identity thefts and fraud attempts. Consequently, governments, health providers and individuals have attempted different interventions to curb privacy breaches. These approaches include but not limited to:
Role of the U.S Government Towards Health Privacy Protection
Formulation and Implementation of Policies
The U.S government through the office of the “National Coordinator for Health Information Technology” (ONC) provides resources for both individuals and health care providers to enable them to integrate privacy policies in their conduct (Murdoch, & Detsky, 2013). As the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) updates the requirement of practice, its essential (ONC) coordinates these new practices to intended persons and organizations such as office of civil rights, Medicare and Medicaid services. Over the years, these activities have expanded to include certification of Electronic Health Records, enforcement of the HIPAA laws, coordinate HER incentives offered by Medicare and Medicaid programs (Brothers, & Rothstein, 2015). Additionally, the organization provides the educational tools for both providers and the public to create awareness on the importance as well as ways to successfully mitigate privacy risks associated with either withholding or accessing and transmitting health information.
Health Providers Interventions
Developing Confidentiality Policies
Most of the organizations have developed comprehensive confidentiality policies to promote trust and confidence among patients while sharing their information. A formal system written and introduced among patients and staff helps the clinicians to identify stepwise procedures when dealing with patient information. On the other hand, the patients build confidence knowing the initiatives taken by the organization to protect their privacy hence honesty. However, several organizations have failed to integrate these policies into their operations for various reasons successfully (Brothers, & Rothstein, 2015). As other organizations lack adequate resources to implement a full electronic health record system, other providers are struggling to maintain the credibility of the system due to changing technological advancements. Thus, either way, the struggle to implement a secure electronic database have failed to lead to breaches of confidential information.
Additionally, the need to extend confidentiality policies to health care partners present a new challenge to patients’ privacy. As most institutions collaborate with other organizations to share health information for various purposes such as care planning and facilitation of research, robust internal confidentiality is of no significance if not implemented by both parties (Brothers, & Rothstein, 2015). The efforts of one partner might get compromised by the transfer of the information to a different party where the policies do not apply. Therefore, continuous cooperation and strict implementation of these policies by both parties are significantly essential to eliminate data breaches.
Secure Systems for Confidentiality
The increasing volumes of patient data generated over the period necessitate needs for consideration of storage alternatives. The increased date resulted in dictates and hard choices of what type of data could be stored due to limited space (Murdoch, & Detsky, 2013). However, as the storage systems changes to cloud-based with the hope of achieving the highest level of protection and security. Although there is an increasing number of cloud-based systems, other organizations are with intend to provide cloud backing are growing their markets. Most of the organizations today are dependent on the government-certified provider. There is a need to evaluate their performance and recommend improvements if necessary annually.
As the patient information availability continues to be user-friendly, the clients are often called upon to ensure they participate in protecting the information they can access as well as those that are available in the mobile devices. For example, over the years’ patients registering they are for cloud computing for purposes of telemedicine are encouraged to use encrypted passwords both in their smartphones, tablets, and laptops as the devices are susceptible cases of thefts or lost (Murdoch, & Detsky, 2013). Moreover, technological and software developers offer new features that can help individuals either track and recover their phones in cases of loss or theft as well as the ability to remotely delete private information in their devices. Therefore, the baseline rationale is awareness of alternatives and opportunities the patient has to protect their privacy while dealing with portable access devices.
Future Trends in Privacy Risk Management in Health Care
Despite the interventions and strategic approaches to prevent data breaches, the prevalence of these cases is becoming a daily part of the news. From a health analogy perspective, incidents of data breach assume the prevalence of common cold whose effects could turn to tuberculosis. The risk requires new interventions that can reduce the incidences and the impacts. Therefore, future trends must focus on flexible pre-breach and post-breach operations (Weaver, Ball, Kim, & Kiel, 2016). The organizational processes that ensure quick assessment and immediate response to incidents will be critical to reducing impacts as well as incidences of the risks associated data breaches. Successful implementation of this procedures will require a culture of compliance where the breach-related procedures and policies are integrated into everyday organizational practice (Weaver et al. 2016). Subsequently, organizations will need to structure their functions to ensure that security and privacy issues are directly addressed to the board. This procedure will result in a commitment to solving patient privacy taking in consideration appropriate measures. Moreover, there have been cases of reported data breaches that were never acted upon by different organizations associated with reports reaching only to the low-level manager.
The growing use of mobile and laptop devices by patients to access data and participate in health care studies will prompt a need to revise procedures and regulations to include these devices. Additionally, most of the organizations have allowed employees and medical staff to directly connect to their enterprise systems and networks using their devices physically or wireless transmitters (Weaver et al. 2016). Therefore, the risk of data breach is always imminent due to the increased risk associated. New interventions governing connections and access to these networks through policies and technical strategies such as encryptions as well as passwords will help to reduce the incidences of exposure to the risk.
Additionally, as ways of developing mitigation and reducing risks of the private data breach, there will be a need for combined annual security and privacy compliance assessments involving providers, partners, and cyber insurances (Weaver et al. 2016). Organizational evaluations results in the identification of the corporate privacy and security profile against what is expected by law are regulations. Adequate evaluation forms the baseline to the guiding formulation and implementation of preventive and response mechanisms. Although the focus will be on pro-active initiatives to prevent the occurrence of a data breach, there will be an increasing phenomenon of cyber-insurance covers to facilitate compensation for high costs of data breach often witnessed in the United States.
The focus on value-based care is increasingly impacted by the developments in technological advancements. The community is quickly changing to incorporate these technological advancements to their health care services while organizations seek to improve efficiency and safety of the patients. However, these changes have also impacted the perspectives and approaches to health information privacy. Although several benefits have been achieved, the managing risk of breach to private information has changed from the secure location within walls and motor to cloud network systems. This implication makes the process of risk management shifting from the provider but to include both the government and the patients as they have access to this information as partners. Policy interventions, training, and awareness creating to limit exposure to the risk have been the most associated strategies towards preventing data breaches. However, future implications will mean limitation or formulation of new policies to include mobile and laptop devices as well as collaborations among partners to reduce the prevalence of the associated risk. Finally, there will need to include cyber-partners as insurance providers to deal with cases and compensation for a data breach.
- Brothers, K. B., & Rothstein, M. A. (2015). Ethical, legal and social implications of incorporating personalized medicine into healthcare. Personalized medicine, 12(1), 43-51.
- Murdoch, T. B., & Detsky, A. S. (2013). The inevitable application of big data to health care. Jama, 309(13), 1351-1352.
- Weaver, C. A., Ball, M. J., Kim, G. R., & Kiel, J. M. (2016). Healthcare information management systems. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
- Zhang, Y., Qiu, M., Tsai, C. W., Hassan, M. M., & Alamri, A. (2017). Health-CPS: Healthcare cyber-physical system assisted by cloud and big data. IEEE Systems Journal, 11(1), 88-95.