What is Health Data Sharing?
Health Data Sharing refers to the practice of making a patient’s personal health information available to other individuals or organizations beyond their healthcare providers. This data may include:
- Medical records: details of medical history, diagnoses, medications, test results, doctor’s notes, etc.
- Claims and billing data: records of health services provided and insurance claims
- Prescription information: history of prescribed medications
- Wearable/tracker data: health and biometric data from devices like Fitbits
- Genetic/genomic data: individual genetic codes and markers impacting health
- Electronic health records (EHRs) are digital versions of medical information from multiple providers.
Reason Behind Sharing the Patient’s Health Data
Health data may be shared for various purposes, such as:
- Coordinating care among multiple providers
- Population health research to understand disease patterns
- Improving public health surveillance systems
- Advancing medical research and innovation
- Providing personalized medicine and care recommendations
- Streamlining health insurance operations and billing
However, health data sharing also raises patient privacy concerns around the security of sensitive personal information. Robust consent, data protection, and cyber security measures are needed to ethically share health data. Patients want more transparency and control over how their data is accessed and used.
Patient Perspectives: Explained
Electronic health records, wearable device data, prescription records, doctor’s notes—today’s digital medical ecosystem collects vast amounts of personal health data. This data could provide insights to improve care through research and analysis. But sharing personal health information also carries risks for patient privacy. What do patients themselves think about the complex issue of health data sharing?
To find out, I interviewed a diverse set of patients and asked their perspectives on sharing health data with tech companies, researchers, insurance providers, and public health agencies. The views were nuanced and enlightening.
Janet, a 62-year-old cancer survivor, voiced strong support for sharing data to advance medical research. She said, “I benefited from clinical trials. Without people sharing their data, we wouldn’t have the treatments we have today. (1) Janet was less comfortable with tech firms like Apple or Fitbit having access to her data. “I don’t mind sharing with my doctor, hospital, or organizations doing medical research that could help people. But companies trying to sell you stuff—that makes me nervous. (2)
Meanwhile, Diego, a 25-year-old graduate student, had fewer reservations about corporate use of his data. “I grew up putting my whole life online. I’m used to targeted ads and find them useful sometimes. 3) But he disliked the idea of insurance firms accessing his health data. “I wouldn’t want to be charged more or denied coverage because an algorithm found something in my records it didn’t like.” (4)
Sara, a mother of two, prioritized privacy and security. She limited her sharing to her healthcare providers and only what was necessary for her treatment. “I don’t want my medical history available to anyone who isn’t directly caring for me. There’s too much risk of a hack or leak. Health data is just too sensitive.” (5) She suggested more focus on strong data protections rather than expanded sharing.
A common theme emerged around the importance of informed consent and control. Patients wanted to decide case-by-case who could access their data and for what purposes. “Blanket sharing of our records feels wrong. We should be asked for permission,” said Diego. (6) Some favored a notice and opt-out model, while others preferred only opt-in sharing.
The conversations revealed the nuances of how patients view health data sharing. Most could see benefits for research and public health purposes but had concerns about corporate use or security risks. Ultimately, they desired more transparency into how their data is used and more say in who accesses it. As data sharing increases, health organizations must engage with patient perspectives and prioritize building trust through strong consent, privacy, and ethical data use policies. (7)