MIT Technology Review considers whether software can help protect the privacy of medical information:
Today a patient’s data typically stays within a hospital group or doctor’s practice. If you get care elsewhere you are essentially a blank slate unless a special request for your data is made, in which case the entire record becomes accessible. But many patients may not want their entire medical history to be accessible by everyone they see, so there is pressure to develop tools that can be used to limit access. One tricky issue is that redacting details of a diagnosis may not remove all the clues as to that condition, such as prescribed drugs or lab tests.
A new tool developed by computer scientists at the University of Illinois can figure out which parts of a record may inadvertently reveal aspects of a patient’s medical history. The idea is that as data-sharing proposals advance, the patient would decide what parts of his or her record to keep private. A clinician would get advice from the technology on how to amend the record to ensure that this occurs. […]
The one big drawback is that giving patients the ability to redact their shared records could sometimes make it more difficult for doctors to treat them than if the doctors got the whole record. For example, if a patient has redacted a drug he’s taking—and the receiving doctor assumes the record includes the patient’s entire history—that doctor might prescribe a new drug that interacts dangerously, [says John Halamka, a professor at Harvard Medical School, chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network.]