Data, data, data!

Health care’s appetite for data is insatiable

Nev's Health Law

Neville M. Bilimoria

Neville M. Bilimoria is a partner in the health law practice group at Duane Morris.

It is often difficult for our health-care provider clients to keep track of all the incoming patient data, to organize it and, even more than that, to protect it from security breaches.

However, not only is the amount of useful data about a patient a problem, but rather, the fact that the data keeps coming and coming, multiplying and does not seem to have an end in sight. Health care’s appetite for data is insatiable.

This creates staggering challenges for modern health care. Clinicians and other health-care providers may find themselves overwhelmed with tens of thousands of data points about a patient that may require them to find the key information (a digital needle in the haystack) needed to properly treat that patient.

Institutions like the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., fight the deluge of data with something called “ambient intelligence.” Ambient intelligence is a set of tools that works to cull through, say, 50,000 data points for a particular patient to make the data more digestible for a clinician’s ease of use and efficiency.

According to a March 22 article by the Harvard Business Review, in a study done by the Mayo Clinic, the clinic identified that only roughly 60 pieces of crucial patient information are needed for the delivery of quick and effective care.

Mayo Clinic developed an ambient intelligent software application that filters out the meaningless data and delivers the data that clinicians need in real time.

This type of ambient intelligence software application is exactly what is driving artificial intelligence in health care as well. Forget about the future of AI providing new diagnoses and better health-care treatments for patients (a worthy goal), but what about AI being able to sift through data points more efficiently than any health-care worker could, to allow physicians to access crucial data that can help to treat a patient better.

The application of AI can reduce the time it takes to import data and use that data efficiently for treatment. Indeed, these advances in data are creating more data applications to help alleviate the pressure of the influx of data in health care. In essence, providers are now beginning to learn how to use data to combat the excessive proliferation of data.

With all of this data being gathered and collected on patients, whether through smartphones, applications, electronic health records or other digital information about a particular patient, the inevitable questions arise: How do providers protect the data and who owns all this data?

New privacy protection technologies are coming to the forefront. For example, AI and blockchain are expected to free the chains of data that are holding back practitioners today. Blockchain uses a virtual digital ledger to provide real-time patient information that the entire medical community would hold to be identical.

The ownership of data is also important with the influx of data in health care today.

Many states have their own legislation regarding the ownership of medical records. Some state statutes refer to the information contained in the record and who owns it, while other state statutes refer only to the transfer or accessing of medical information.

Only one state, New Hampshire, specifically legislates that patients own the records and the data contained in those records, whether housed in the hospital or a physician’s office. The rest of the states say that either hospitals and/or physicians own the medical records or there have no specific laws on the issue.

Could patients argue that their medical information is somehow their own and all this digital information about them should be paid for before being accessed? That is already happening, to an extent, thanks to the federal Health Information and Portability Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. The act’s privacy and security rules prevent a provider from “selling” a patient’s data without the patient’s consent.

Do patients know that their unidentifiable data is being used to care not only for themselves, but for whole populations?

Patient health information is the lifeblood of software, research and predictive analytics technology applications seeking new treatments and better outcomes. One thing is for sure, under the act’s privacy and security rules, regardless of who owns the records, patients have the right to privacy and the ultimate right in requesting access to their medical data and in any form they choose.

In Illinois, while the federal privacy act allows patients access to their data, there are no specific statutes in Illinois that grant an ownership interest to patients and their medical records.

Even though data is proliferating among devices and medical technologies in an effort to better treat patients, it may be data itself can cull through the morass of data to provide better, streamlined information.

Ironic to think technology produces all this data, and helps us to harness the data, but now we will need more technology to decipher all of the good digital data which technology has created.