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Can Software Make Health Data More Private?

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A modern doctor's tools: stethoscope and notebook computer.

A newly developed software could give patients more control over their personal health information.


University of Illinois researchers say they have developed software that could give people more control over how their personal health information is shared between doctors and medical institutions.

The program, which can determine which parts of a record may inadvertently reveal aspects of a patient's medical history, works by enabling the patient to decide what parts of the medical record to keep private. The program then provides a clinician with advice on how to amend the record to ensure this occurs. The software bases its recommendations on a machine-learning analysis of many other medical records, revealing details that could be associated with past medical history.

The researchers say the tool eventually could automatically eliminate those additional details to keep that information confidential. However, for health information to be shared, patients must give approval, and many are wary of oversharing, notes University of Illinois professor Carl Gunter.

"Unless you give the patient some control over this, they will not share any information," Gunter says. "And that is going to cost the health-care system a great deal."

From Technology Review
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