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This is why we need to safeguard patient privacy

 A privacy breach can have severe consequences, including compromised patient trust and legal repercussions. [iStockphoto]

As the healthcare industry becomes increasingly reliant on digital systems, data governance plays a pivotal role in protecting patient privacy, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of healthcare data, and improving the efficiency of healthcare delivery. However, numerous challenges must be overcome to achieve these goals.

Patient data privacy

It goes without saying how important it is to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of a patient's data. The nature of the data one's healthcare provider possesses is so personal so much a privacy breach can have severe consequences, including compromised patient trust and legal repercussions.

The Data Protection Act, 2019

In Kenya, the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2019 establishes crucial principles for the lawful processing of personal data, including health data. The Data Protection Act introduced fundamental principles that set a standard to health data processing.

The DPA defines health data as a special category of data and stipulates data protection principles that must be applied when processing this data. Healthcare practitioners are now required to ensure that personal data is used fairly, lawfully, and transparently, and only to the extent necessary to pursue health-related public interests, in accordance with the applicable data protection principles under the Data Protection Act.

Legal inconsistency

However, these principles are not consistently addressed in all the other laws and policies concerning the processing of health data. This poses a significant challenge as advancements in technology impact data processing, access, retention, and overall management, potentially compromising the rights of data subjects.

Although privacy and confidentiality duties are acknowledged in relation to direct health data processors, the existing laws and policies lack clarity and guidance when it comes to situations involving third parties. They also fall short in addressing data transfer across borders or between different data collection systems, such as in referral cases.

The potential benefits of proper data governance are immense

A well-coordinated data governance system on a national scale will greatly contribute to the optimisation of healthcare efficiency by centralising data management, eliminating silos, and promoting data sharing and collaboration.

By facilitating interoperability, proper data governance will also allow for seamless data exchange between healthcare systems and providers, streamlines workflows, automate processes, and enables data analytics and decision support tools.

Sector-specific data governance practice

Existing laws and policies should be reviewed and revised, and sector-specific guidelines developed to guide the processing of health data. The rapid growth in the development and adoption of eHealth, mHealth and telemedicine platforms, and emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect, predict and diagnose disease demand that we quickly clean up our legal and policy environment to ensure sustainable developments on those fronts.

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