Protecting Clinical Data and Confidential Patient information from Theft & Misuse

Written By Alla Levin
January 06, 2021
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Protecting Clinical Data and Confidential Patient information from Theft & Misuse

When a company receives data to provide a service, they likely reuse it to build new data for entirely new and lucrative purposes. This trend has resulted in information proliferation, which incentivizes more and more people to gain access to confidential information and enhance the worth of the original data used to build data products.

Take, for instance, laboratories. A patient’s test results are shared with the doctor and with customers who will pay to receive the outcome of the reports. In this, by HIPAA, the patient’s identifying data may be removed, but the doctor identified information continues to stay. This means pharmaceutical corporations know which physicians have patients with pertinent examinations. Besides, sales representatives quickly reach out to the doctor’s clinic to convince them that the drug they are selling is the correct treatment option, even before the doctor would have an opportunity of seeing the patient again.

Within the pharmaceutical data chain, there are brokers even for laboratory records. These companies ingest laboratory information, including joining and extracting new laboratory sources to accomplish expanded laboratory information coverage. As a result, whoever has the money to pay can gain actionable health insights and use this data for a variety of reasons, from evaluating insurance risk and cost analyses to making decisions on therapies and treatments, research and analytics, and more.

Protecting Clinical DataProtecting Clinical Data

Getting on the bandwagon are insurance companies too. Insurance companies purchase databases that include patient diagnosis, procedures, laboratory tests and diagnostic tests, hospitalizations, doctor visits, ER visits, adverse events, home care, office visits, information regarding the cost of the therapy, holistic medical and pharmacy expenses, and much more. There are various potential buyers, such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, marketing agencies, analysts, healthcare centers, and various other analytics organizations. Insurance companies offer completely identifiable claims data through groups and employers. Employers that run self-funded groups generally hire an insurer to process the claims. Then, since the employer possesses the claims information, the insurance company must offer it with wholly identified claims reports. This means that employers who have self-funded insurance coverage plans can now gain access to prescription records, medical processes, and other employee details. And more than often, data security professionals in such companies are not aware of the level of granular health information existing on the network until a data breach occurs.

This brings us to realize how critical a data security system is in managing and keeping health data confidential and to protect clinical trial data and confidential patient information. In that regard, digital rights management (DRM) can be viewed as the only proven, proactive data security tool that can prevent the alteration, copying, piracy, and theft of clinical data. This is why all players in the pharma chain must ensure their data is duly protected through DRM.

And moving on from insurance companies, state governments also gather comprehensive information regarding hospitalization and prescription records from insurers. This data is often sold or shared with researchers and corporations. Data security professionals employed in these organizations, or IT teams who have access to the information, should be made aware of the amount of data gathered and how it can be protected from theft and misuse.

As can be seen, health data is a valuable resource and even a priceless asset. With the proliferation of computing power and online storage space, companies now understand the importance of integrating confidential information into daily business procedures to enhance productivity and efficiency. Also, the rise of data analytics tools has further boosted data brokers’ development as a new and rapidly burgeoning sector that is building powerful and direct financial enticements to collect and share information.

Given the global rise in the amount of confidential information that companies gather, store, process, and transmit, the need to secure clinical data is more critical than ever. And while data breach regulations and standards are generally applied to companies that gather classified information, the data protected by current data breach laws and rules are inadequate compared to the entire spectrum of confidential information purchased, sold, and leveraged.

Unfortunately, the costs of a data breach and protecting clinical data are generally borne by data subjects and the society as a whole, as very few organizations have been held accountable for data leakages in the past. Although this is slowly changing, and more and more organizations are now bearing the cost of data breaches, the importance of securing health data when stored and transmitted to reduce the risk of a data breach is far more critical than ever.

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