“The fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.” 1963 quote from Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.
I moderated a panel last week for Xconomy that was focused on consumer-oriented healthcare information technology. The panel included 2 hospital chief information officers (one current, one former) and two healthcare IT company executives. The panel itself was preceded by a presentation from Dr. Kevin Patrick, a preventive medicine specialist at UC San Diego and director of the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. Dr. Patrick talked about many things, but among them was a program he is leading that relies on Facebook to support individuals’ weight loss goals. By engaging ones friends and friends-of-friends, goes the theory, one can more effectively stay on track with a weight loss program and work to prevent the scourge of Type II diabetes, among other problems. Dr. Patrick hypothesized that this approach could work with other health-related areas beyond weight management.
In fact, there are already companies trying to cash in on this approach, including PatientsLikeMe, the Cambridge, MA-based company that supports different online communities of patients who share the same life-changing diagnoses. Such specialized communities of electronic show-and-tell may become increasingly prevalent as the era of personal genomics makes it easier and less expensive to diagnose every person’s inherent disposition to disease.
It’s an interesting time for consumers who are theoretically trying to (or being forced to) become more engaged in their own health and to take a greater role in managing their own healthcare. One of the issues oft discussed in this context is privacy and its companion, data security. There is a generally accepted view that patients worry a great deal about the privacy of their healthcare information and much effort is made to protect healthcare data security as a result. Or is it?
One of the questions I asked my panel to respond to was this: does anyone really care about privacy and security when it comes to healthcare or is that just one of those things people are supposed to say? The response from everyone on the panel was the appropriately emphatic “yes, it’s important”, but I am not sure I’m convinced. If Dr. Patrick’s patients are going to use Facebook to share healthcare information with each other, can they really care about privacy and data security? Let’s be real; Facebook is about as secure as Tiger Woods’ hotel room: pretty much anyone can get in.
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