What is data privacy in healthcare?

Today, there are virtually no organizations or institutions that do not collect personal data. The only thing that distinguishes them is the purpose and type of information they process. In this article, we will summarize why medical data requires special protection and what healthcare companies must consider when storing personal data.

Why data protection is so important in healthcare

Medical data is subject to a high level of protection. They are classified by the legislator as special types of personal data. This is because medical data contain particularly sensitive information and are therefore more likely to be misused. Whether pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, or hackers who want to blackmail health insurance companies or hospitals with the stolen data – if medical data falls into the wrong hands, the consequences are often serious. Frequently, those affected simply do not want information about their state of health to be passed on to third parties, after all this could cost them their good reputation or even a career opportunity.

Personal data in the medical field relates in particular to information on treatments, previous illnesses, and diagnostics of the patient. This information must be treated as strictly confidential and under no circumstances must it fall into the hands of unauthorized third parties.

This applies not only for data protection reasons. Personal data in the healthcare sector are also subject to medical confidentiality. Sensitive data may only be collected with the express consent of the patient. Only if this releases the treating or nursing staff from their duty of confidentiality may they pass on information about the patient's state of health to third parties.

Legal background for data protection in the healthcare sector

The storage and processing of medical data are subject to much stricter regulations than ordinary personal data. With the entry into force of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, the requirements have increased again. The regulations of the GDPR apply to all types of personal data. In addition to patient data, this also includes information on employees, contractual partners, etc. The opening clauses of the GDPR also require compliance with other federal and state-specific laws. These include the IT Security Act, the E-Health Act, and the provisions of the Criminal Code and the Social Security Code.

Violating the ban on disclosing patient data has criminal consequences; this can be punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to one year according to ยง203 of the Criminal Code. Data protection should therefore be given special consideration in the healthcare sector.

Specificity of privacy data protection in medical institutions

Disclosure of medical confidentiality is prohibited even after the death of the patient. At the same time, clinics are required to store data on the health of each person who applied in the form of a medical card. The problem of information leakage can arise at each stage of the interaction of the personnel of a medical institution with the personal cards of patients.

The processing of patients` personal data consists of the following steps:

  • collection and recording of information;
  • systematization of the received data;
  • storage of information in the database;
  • clarification of details (if necessary);
  • destruction of irrelevant information.

The use of modern information systems brings this process to a new level of convenience and protection. Today, three effective tools for the secure processing of personal data in hospitals are used:

  • special applications with local or network storage;
  • medical information systems operating within a specific medical center;
  • cloud programs for collecting and storing information like virtual data rooms.