Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

An inherent tension lies between using medical records for legitimate clinical research and concerns about patient privacy. “The problem is, stuff that’s considered anonymous really isn’t,” says Michael Swiernik, director of medical informatics at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s going to take a lot of different creative approaches to protect people, and this algorithm is one tool in that box.”

The new approach has its limitations. The studies work best, say the researchers, when they start out with a specific hypothesis or goal–say, to study the prevalence of asthma in teenagers with allergies. However, if they wanted to use the same data to examine associations between two random health issues in the future, it would be more difficult.

The researchers want to combine their clinical-code-protecting algorithm with other security mechanisms already in place, like protections for demographic information, to keep patient data as safe as possible. They also want to reach out to use more data outside of Vanderbilt, according to Grigorios Loukides, the study’s lead author.

The future of science relies on more subtle ways of extracting useful information from existing data. Methods that allow researchers to be more nuanced in how they anonymize data “enable us to maximize the scientific benefit we get from population data while controlling the risks to privacy,” according to Isaac Kohane, director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program. It’s all about sharing, says study author Malin. “Generating data is expensive, and it’s both good science and good etiquette to reuse data. The challenge is to do it while protecting people.”

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Biomedicine, security, privacy, healthcare IT, medical records

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me