With medical institutions increasingly sharing patient information such as medical treatment records, civil groups and experts are calling for a more careful approach to information security.
However, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW)보건복지부 has recently revealed its stance that using patients’ medical information is essential to improve the quality of medical services.
Yeom Min-sub염민섭, director of the ministry’s healthcare policy division, said it was imperative to make full use of medical information to enhance the quality of medical services in a forum held in the National Assembly, under the theme of patient-centered medical information policy in the era of artificial intelligence.
“To make use of patient information, privacy should be protected under any circumstances. There should be follow-up punishment measures for illegally using medical information. The ministry can set up a division to deal with the security of medical information,” Yeom said.
“Some key areas such as precision medicine, medical genetics and regenerative medicine will change the global healthcare market worth $11 trillion and they all need big data. In this kind of era, we will be left behind if we don’t catch up quickly,” he said.
“Korea has high-quality big data in terms of information, workers and infrastructure in the medical industry. If we start early to make use of such medical information, we can lead the global market,” he said.
He emphasized the need to create a related law and to secure a budget.
“We need to establish a body to discuss who owns the medical information, how to facilitate them and how ethics should be applied. We are ready to make one. But we need a special law to make well use of such information and protect privacy,” he said.
“The ministry has been devising up a strategy since March to make use of the medical industry’s big data. We have completed the outline and we’re now gathering opinions. The exchange of healthcare medical information between medical institutions will be also helpful to patients. If this plan is reflected on the next year’s budget, our move will gain momentum,” he said.
Yeom said if privacy of the patients is not protected 100 percent, further social consensus will be needed whether the ministry should go ahead to allow active use of the medical information.
“It is essential to secure privacy protection before developing a system to use medical information. But it is impossible to solve security issues 100 percent. Then, it is important how far we should go. We need social consensus on this,” he said.
Medical industry officials who participated in the forum also emphasized the need to make full use of medical information.
“It is important to protect patients’ medical information. Usually, celebrities suffer privacy issues after their medical records are revealed but ordinary people want to know why their high blood pressure cannot be controlled if medical institutions share their medical records. And it isn’t a problem to open their medical information,” said prof. Cho Bi-ryung조비룡 at Family Medicine of Seoul National University Hospital서울대병원.
“The primary medical institutions are too small to share medical information on their own. The government has to help them to do so,” he said.
“Protection of privacy 100 percent means we can’t use medical information at all. The public should reach an agreement on how to protect medical information and how far we can use them,” said prof. Park Rae-woong 박래웅 at the medical information division of Ajou University Hospital아주대병원.
“The incident at the Korea Pharmaceutical Information Center 약학정보원 has led medical institutions more hesitant to share data. Related researchers and companies are burned out and became skeptical to continuing their work. I doubt that we can provide quality services to compete in the global market,” added prof. Park.
On the other hand, experts who study security issues and civil groups argue that patients’ privacy on their medical records are being seriously damaged.
Prof. Shin Soo-yong신수영 at Kyunghee University경희대 said the definition of private information should be clear.
“Private information and individual identification information are two different things but we often confuse them. For example, height and weight are personal information, but can’t be identification information except for people whose height and weight are extraordinary. But no one likes it when somebody else uses their height and weight information,” he said.
Prof. Lee Ki-hyuk이기혁 at Chung-Ang University중앙대, who presented “Security Issue and Measures of Smart Medical Services,” said education about medical information security should start from medical school.
“Doctors and engineers have different views on security. Medical schools should adopt a security subject as a compulsory course. And a government-level organization have to be established to support small medical institutions’ efforts to enhance security,” Lee said.
Co-CEO Hyun Jung-hee현정희 at Health Right Network건강세상네트워크 said drugmakers and private insurance companies should not use patient information as a tool to make profits.
“In a capitalist society, a number of people’s privacy is put to risk because the healthcare and medical industries including pharmaceutical firms and private insurers seek profits without checking the leakage of their medical records. It doesn’t make sense that they are talking about the use of private information even though they know all these issues,” Hyun said.
“People say using mobile devices in the medical field is good but what happens if doctors or nurses lose their cell phones that contain patient information? We have to tackle these problems before talking about the use of big data,” she said.
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