Simplifying healthcare data management key to better outcomes

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) recently published guidelines on the processing of health data, aiming to ensure that the information collected adheres to the law, guaranteeing patients the right to privacy and dignity.

These guidelines address longstanding privacy concerns, including the potential misuse of personal and health data, patient privacy and dignity, lack of transparency around data processing, and the risk of bias and discrimination in health data processing.

Indeed, the health sector in Kenya is one of the largest users of personal data, collecting, storing, and analysing vast amounts of personal data during various stages such as registration, diagnosis, storage, analysis and transfer.

Institutions that handle health information are obligated to process personal data in a lawful, fair, and transparent manner.

This entails collecting only the minimum amount of data required for the health purpose and not keeping personal information for longer than necessary. All entities involved in the healthcare sector must undergo mandatory registration with the ODPC.

Streamlining and simplifying data handling processes are crucial for improving information exchange within the healthcare ecosystem, leading to better outcomes for insurers, providers, and members.

Just as a surgeon handles delicate procedures in the operating room, healthcare data should be managed with the utmost care, securely and following a standardised set of rules by all stakeholders.

Healthcare institutions must maintain up-to-date policies and processes governing the collection, use, disclosure, accuracy, and destruction of personal health information, while also ensuring that personal data is securely stored and retained only for the necessary duration.

This collective commitment to standardised data handling safeguards sensitive information and enables the optimisation of healthcare outcomes.

The health insurance industry is leveraging digitisation and innovation to provide better value to both healthcare providers and members.

Technologies such as e-health and m-health are revolutionising the transfer, storage, and access of healthcare data, leading to improved care coordination and patient outcomes.

Amidst rising costs, increasing risks, and evolving customer needs, responsible and effective data handling is no longer optional.

Healthcare institutions should abide by the principles of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency by implementing clear and easy-to-understand privacy notices for clients and employees alike. Health data handlers must have adequate measures in place to ensure the confidentiality and security of data due to the sensitive nature of personal health information.

Efforts should be made towards achieving data protection by design or default by proactively integrating data protection requirements into existing systems, processes, and practices.

Conducting data protection impact assessments is one way to achieve this goal. Other essential initiatives include implementing data retention policies and safety measures such as encryption.

Before transferring personal data, it is imperative to ensure that appropriate data protection safeguards are in place or that explicit consent has been obtained from data subjects.

Everyone involved in handling healthcare information can contribute to better data management, ensuring safety, transparency, trust, and compliance. This will mitigate risks, improve healthcare outcomes, and pave the way for simpler digital healthcare experiences in the future, bringing us closer to more accessible care. 

The writer is the Director of Risk, Privacy, and Compliance at M-TIBA and Vice Chair of the Kenya Privacy Professionals Association

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