There is no end to the advice available on how to protect your identity from online hackers who want to steal account numbers, passwords, and other sensitive data. However, an often overlooked aspect of data privacy is related to healthcare. What is the connection between healthcare technology and privacy, and can consumers be confident that their information isn’t falling into the wrong hands?
Privacy Concerns Related to Healthcare Technology
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“Healthcare technology” is a broad term that can take in everything from consumer-friendly apps and gadgets to the complex systems that doctors, nurses, and healthcare informatics specialists use. Any medical information that is in the hands of healthcare professionals is protected by law, but what about other information?
Sometimes, it is by a consumer’s own missteps that his or her medical data makes it into the open waters of cyberspace. For example, wearable technology like Fitbit and Jawbone can monitor a user’s heart rate and sleep patterns. These devices can post this data to social media networks.
Other institutions may hold information that indicates a person’s health. For example, gyms may keep records on how often their members come to work out. Nutritional supplement companies often track purchases made by individual consumers.
What is the result of this world’s never-ending highway of data exchange? An article from eWeek says, “A report earlier this year from Accenture revealed that although the vast majority of U.S. patients want to control their health data, more than half (55 percent) believe they do not have very much—or any—control over their medical information.”
The Benefits of Sharing Health Data
It isn’t always a bad thing that so much health data is out there. Medical researchers and public health professionals can use data to address concerns that affect the population. Electronic health records and health informatics are making it possible for doctors to have access to large databases of information that can provide insight into society’s state of health.
There may also be benefits of sharing health data on an individual basis. One individual hacked his Fitbit so it is connected to the power strip on his refrigerator. If he doesn’t reach his daily exercise goal, the fridge will shut off and the food will start to spoil. This is an extreme example, but it shows that sharing health data may provide the motivational spark that people need to make healthier choices.
Settling on a Solution
Consumers too must take action to protect their health data. By scrutinizing security settings on their health devices and social media networks, and by taking a close look at any health-related contracts they sign, they can safeguard their personal information.
Privacy and healthcare technology have a complex relationship. Consumers and professionals should both take responsibility for striking a balance between beneficial sharing and data privacy.