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Report focuses on medical privacy in world full of mobile devices

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Mobile phone use has far outpaced basic infrastructure in some parts of the developing world. This is an exciting development, as the potential for mobile phones to improve world health is significant. It's estimated that 48 million people worldwide have access to a mobile phone despite lacking electricity in their homes.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A new report released today on "Patient Privacy in a Mobile World" offers a comprehensive global review of privacy and security policies in the field of mobile health.

Among the topics covered in the report are global legislation, regulation landscape, seven country case studies, as well as a framework for addressing security and privacy issues related to mobile health - or mHealth for short.

The mHealth Alliance, which includes the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Merck and Baker & McKenzie, the alliance provides recommendations for ensuring the security of health data collected and transmitted over mobile devices.

Governments frequently cite concerns related to data privacy and security, now more than ever, with the release of the Prism program. The protection of individual health information, the group says, is the key barriers to the expansion of mHealth.

The research being conducted is intended to benefit governments with a privacy law framework that can be tailored to different cultures, environments, and scenarios to maximize patient control and autonomy over mHealth data.

"Mobile health has the potential to improve health and well-being on a global scale and this research now provides important guidance as to how this can be achieved while still protecting patient privacy," Roy Birnbaum, Counsel in Merck's International Law department says.

"In order for mHealth to reach scale, we have to build greater trust among the recipients of mHealth solutions in the privacy and security of their health data," Patricia Mechael, Executive Director of the mHealth Alliance says. "The findings and recommendations from this research will help move the needle on mHealth privacy, and offer a valuable framework for how to proceed on complex issues related to securing health data."

Announced last November, the partner organizations have examined seven geographically diverse countries where mHealth projects are already underway. These countries include Bangladesh, Chile, India, Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania, and Uganda.

"Our research will equip mHealth leaders with valuable tools, enabling them to take steps to ensure that patients' personal medical information is protected -- regardless of where the patients happen to live or how much mobile technologies change," Michael J. Wagner, Chair of the Global Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Industry Group at Baker & McKenzie says.

Working with principles set forth in existing privacy laws, the report identifies guidelines for future regulation in areas such as: scope of coverage, notice and consent requirements, data minimization (or the reduction of irrelevant data collections, uses, and transmissions), data security, integrity and accessibility, data transfers, and enforcement and sanctions.

The report does not advocate one universal model law for the entire world. Rather, it concludes that a one-size-fits-all approach is simply not appropriate in the privacy context and much less in an environment, such as mHealth, where the technology is continually evolving.

Efforts at legislative reform to address mHealth privacy and security concerns on the national level must first take stock of the cultural, technological, and legal context.

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