Addressing privacy concerns essential to eHealth success - South China Morning Post


Addressing privacy concerns essential to eHealth success

The Health Department plans to seek nearly HK$1.4 billion for an eHealth+ initiative which will better integrate electronic health records, facilitate clinical processes and enable the cross-border transfer of medical data.

Launched in 2016, eHealth allows healthcare providers to access patients' records in public and private healthcare facilities with the patient's authorisation, thus helping reduce medical errors.

Registration figures for eHealth across the city look good. All public and private hospitals and nearly 3,000 private healthcare organisations have registered to use the platform, involving about 5,400 service locations and 80 per cent of the total number of registered doctors. In addition, 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s population have also registered for the service.

However, of the 6 million registrants, more than 70 per cent have not given "sharing consent" to private healthcare providers that would authorise private doctors to upload their medical records. As a result, information uploaded by private medical organisations accounts for less than 1 per cent of the data on the platform, which "has become an obstacle" to providing "continuity of care", according to the Health Bureau.

One of the reasons is privacy concerns, according to local patient rights concern groups. Privacy and data ownership of digital health records are issues that remain unresolved in many places.

Today, other than facilitating personal healthcare, digital health records are used extensively by public health researchers in some countries to analyse population health. But what if there were a conflict between personal privacy and these big data analysis projects?

For example, could family members of patients with a sensitive medical history request their digital health records be taken offline and removed from the research pool? If so, would research on patients with certain diseases be comprehensive enough to draw conclusions?

The success of the digital health records system depends on trust between the public and the government. Some scholars have suggested the public should own and have control over personal health records. At the same time, members of the public are encouraged to discuss their concerns to increase understanding of the protection measures in force. This will help more people embrace this new technology and enable public funds to be spent more effectively.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong