By Sean Butler, Director of Product Marketing at Privitar

Healthcare organizations gather enormous quantities of data about each and every one of us as they work to improve our quality of life. The problems come when they try to analyze that sensitive data safely. In healthcare, data scientists and analysts can spend months and even up to a year waiting to gain access to the data they need. Why? Our healthcare data consists of significant quantities of Personally Identifiable Information or PII, including protected health information (PHI). That’s why it’s essential to protect the privacy of individuals when we seek to use sensitive data. And we must seek to use that information because it contains insights we need—information that could help drive healthcare innovation and make us all healthier. Waiting a year for a data set isn’t sustainable for innovative organizations, especially now, when COVID-19 is resulting in massive amounts of data that we all need to learn from as quickly as possible.

Data Is Changing How We Do Research

Data is changing how we research and draw conclusions in many healthcare related fields, including:

  • Medical research
  • Pandemic Management
  • Population health
  • Disease management
  • Treatment/protocol optimization
  • Patient experience
  • Hospitalization

The faster data scientists and healthcare IT teams can use the information that’s being collected, the more quickly the healthcare field can respond to the insights they’re seeing. According to current estimates, as of 2019 there are 40 million petabytes of data in the world, and 90% of that data has been created in the last two years. Indeed, according to Dell EMC, data in the healthcare sector has grown 878% since 2016.

We Need To Safely Leverage Sensitive Data…Rapidly

Organizations know they need to leverage their share of this growing body of sensitive data to gain timely insights and support data-driven decisions that lead to better products, services, and customer experiences. In turn, this can increase revenue and profits, decrease time-to-market, and improve outcomes. Better healthcare informatics can help in so many ways that can save lives, it’s no wonder that faster analysis is becoming a priority. Here are a few life-saving opportunities made achievable through healthcare informatics:

  • Predictive Analytics: Real-time data feeds of ICU patients to warn staff of patient deterioration.
  • Disease Prevention: Pharma companies can pair years of genotypic data to discover new methods of treating metabolic disorders, cancer, pulmonary, urologic, cardiovascular, and many other types of diseases.
  • Advances in bone marrow matching: Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, and as many as 70% of those patients don’t have a compatible match in their family. Access to this type of information can help find a match faster and improve medical outcomes.

Free Access To Data Isn’t An Option

In fact, organizations who implement and leverage a data lake are faster to insights by 45%. But free and unfettered access to sensitive data really isn’t an option today. In 2020, healthcare companies reportedly incurred the highest average breach cost at $7.13 million, which is more than 10% higher than it was in IBM’s 2019 Cost of a Data Breach Report. Over 100 countries have privacy regulations, and more countries are considering data privacy regulations every day. Perhaps most importantly, many consumers no longer want to do business with companies who have misused data or suffered data breaches.

Data-Driven Healthcare Innovation

To become data-driven, healthcare organizations are consolidating data as part of cloud migrations, using data lakes and data marketplaces. This consolidation makes it easier to understand what data they already have and makes it ready for use. But realizing data’s value comes not just from making sure it’s ready to use, but from actually using it. To use that information to greatest effect, the organization must:

  • Use it broadly as part of their informatics and population health management initiatives.
  • Make de-identified data widely available for research to those who need it.
  • Share data beyond the four walls of the company to involve the supply chain, distribution channels, trading partners, and service providers.

These steps will help your organization achieve its healthcare innovation goals.

Don’t Stop At Data Security – Prioritize Data Privacy

To do all that, the organization must be sure that its sensitive data is secure and de-identified to ensure complete protection. The technology world has focused on security a great deal in recent years, and undoubtedly, the security team has made many investments to reduce the likelihood of a data breach and prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data, but that’s simply not enough. Unfortunately, most data leaks — 57% according to the Verizon Insider Threat Report — use authorized credentials, and security measures do not protect data in use or travel with the data. In other words, security is important and essential, but it is not privacy.

Insider cybersecurity incidents—perpetrated by employees, contractors, interns and leaders within an organization—are real and can quickly destroy businesses of all sizes and industries.” Verizon Insider Threat Report 

Privacy complements security by building on the security foundation, because it prevents identification of individuals or exposure of personal information. In order to reduce or eliminate the consequences of data misuse or breach, it’s essential to protect the data itself. These data protections must apply when data is in use and travel with the data. When organizations protect sensitive data, it continues to be protected and individuals cannot be identified or linked to the data—even if data sets are leaked. If we can innovate faster, and hopefully even save lives in the process, we must maximize the value of sensitive data by optimizing data utility while preserving privacy and delivering data rapidly to data scientists, analysts, and the business leaders they serve. Maximizing data value is essential to achieving healthcare innovation.

Watch on demand: Powering Healthcare Informatics and Analytics with Safe Sensitive Data