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E-health: privacy, security questioned

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

Although they would not say it in public, many professionals in Africa, as well as in the developed world, have admitted that e-health implementation could be affected by privacy and security issues, an analyst told Biztechafrica in Dakar.

“There will be a lot of data sharing in e-health systems among various healthcare providers and professionals, meaning people’s medical records will be out there in the open, moving from John to Paul to Mary, and that it’s making many professionals very uncomfortable,” IT consultant Ibrahima Ndoye said.

“The big question now is will these systems through which this data will move be safe, secure and effective? This is EPR we’re talking about here, and it’s not only a sensitive issue, but also confidential.”

EPR stands for electronic patient records, and basically consists of digitised paper-based records. Some however call it EHR, electronic health records.

“People shouldn’t just jump of joy about this e-health thing, it’s a very complicated situation that needs a strong legal framework, and in places such as Africa where chaos and inconsistency reign every day in the governance of these systems, the worries and concerns are justified.”

Ndoye’s sentiments seemed to be echoed by Naipeng Dong, Hugo Jonker and Jun Pang, of the Faculty of Sciences, Technology and Communication at the University of Luxembourg.

They said: “E-health systems have to deal with a far more complex constellation of roles: doctors, patients, pharmacists, insurance companies, medical administration, etc.

“Each of these roles has access to different private information and different privacy concerns. As existing privacy approaches from other domains are not properly equipped to handle such a diverse array of roles, privacy must be tailored to the health-care domain.”

Ndoye said each and every system will have to be fitted with strong monitoring mechanisms to ensure that medical data that goes through is not tampered with. “I don’t think e-health will move forward if the privacy and safety concerns are properly addressed,” he said.

Privacy in e-health has been recognised as one of the paramount requirements necessary for adoption by the general public, according to Dong, Jonker and Pang wrote.

The issue of privacy and security of e-health records sparked a heated debate in Australia last year, with various experts and political parties urging the government to amend some sections of Personally Controlled E-Health Record Bills (PCEHR) before passed into law.

One such party was the Greens, who recommended that the government make five amendments to the proposed legislation to include greater privacy protections.

“The issue of privacy and security is an ongoing debate, even in the countries where e-health has supposedly been adopted. There is still some pockets of resistance out there who fear the unknown, and their fears are truly justified.”

 

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