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Privacy Software to Unlock Health Data Goldmine

Privacy Software to Unlock Health Data Goldmine

CSIRO is looking for a lead agency to help it exploit newly-released privacy software which will allow the expanded use of health data collections without compromising personal privacy protections.

CSIRO's newly-released Privacy-Preserving Analytics (PPA) algorithms, showcased at last week's Health Informatics Conference, have been incorporated into prototype software which is attracting interest among health data custodians, researchers and administrators within Australia and overseas.

And CSIRO mathematician Dr Christine O'Keefe says PPA also has potential applications in other areas where privacy issues are paramount, including banking and finance, homeland security, counterterrorism applications and intelligence-gathering efforts.

PPA builds on CSIRO's CSIRO Privacy-Preserving Linking (PPL) technology, which encrypts any data which identifies patients, while allowing all non-identifiable data to be analyzed.

PPL has already proved its worth in protecting privacy in areas like Queensland's Health Data Integration (HDI) project, under which a network of public and private hospitals are sharing data targeting prevention and early detection of disease. The project is aimed at allowing health professionals to share data which could be used to uncover valuable trends and clinical insights while at the same time maintaining patient privacy.

"The Privacy-Preserving Linking technology brings together disparate health databases without their custodians having to reveal the names and addresses to each other. The Privacy-Preserving Analytic technology is software to enable remote analysis of data sets in a set after they have been linked," O'Keefe says.

She says until now use of Australia's many health data collections has been limited due to privacy concerns.

"Our Privacy-Preserving Analytics (PPA) software can solve this by analyzing data collections in a way that protects the privacy of both individuals and health care providers.

"There are countless benefits to making better use of our health data collections, including discovering causes and treatments of diseases, monitoring safety and quality in provision of healthcare, and improving efficiency of the healthcare system."

While privacy has traditionally been preserved by modifying data before releasing it for research, with data modifications kept secret from researchers, thus making the results less reliable than they could be, PPA produces more accurate and reliable results by running analyses on raw data in a secure environment, with researchers only receiving the results.

O'Keefe says development of PPA was completed in June and CSIRO is now looking for a lead agency to trial the software and act as a reference site. And she says she is confident an appropriate agency will come forward soon.

"We have been talking to a number of large health organizations and statistical agencies and generally the reaction has been: when can we have one?" she says. "People are very excited about it. There have been no orders as yet but I think we're probably not at the order stage - we are looking for somebody to be a lead customer or reference site type of relationship. The other path that we can see is partnering with the vendors that have it as an optional plug-in.

"I think it will be of use anywhere where there is confidential data that people want to analyze. Certainly I can see it being used in banking and finance and also in homeland security, counterterrorism applications, intelligence. We are targeting it health in the first instance, because if you can crack the problem in the health then you've probably got something that is more widely applicable."

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