CSIRO prototype solves data privacy concerns

Prototype software, which the CSIRO has developed over the past three years, can solve most privacy concerns relating to the transfer of personal and sensitive patient health information, the organisation says.

The CSIRO has developed algorithms - dubbed Privacy-Preserving Analytics - for software that automatically de-identifies patient data on a database, and presents the viewer with a PDF version of the information.

The initial project, which had no connections with HealthConnect or and electronic health records, was to ensure that raw data used for secondary research contained no sensitive (or private) information.

Previously, data has had to be significantly modified before it was released it for research purposes; however, when using the Privacy Preserving Analytics the data does not have to be scoured.

CSIRO leader of Health Informatics, Dr Christine O'Keefe said the prototype software fits directly to provide a secondary use for the health data necessary for research and policy and although not directed as a clinical setting for HealthConnect it currently has a role in evidence-based medicine used to identify disease trends.

According to O'Keefe, the software started as an experiment.

"We wanted to leave the data with the custodian (hospital, surgeon, GP) in its raw, unmodified form and then offer users of the software access to an approved Web-based access system," O'Keefe said, adding the software has been designed so people do not have access to the data but run analyses from it and then receive the results.

"The traditional approach is the custodian would de-identify the data and remove names and addresses, and they may even remove sensitive information like the name of the surgeon and typically also add noise to the data, even swapping values like gender. All of this is intended to preserve the privacy of people in the data sets but that means the data set comes out changed significantly - making it extremely difficult to create reliable models.

"Custodians love this idea because they keep their own data, which is better for security reasons; we even spoke to various ethics committees about this prototype and they loved it."

The CSIRO is currently looking for a partner or customer to trial the software.

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