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Is Big Brother Watching?
Telehealth Brings New Privacy Concerns

By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 3)

Since there could be many people who would have a “stake” in the remote monitoring system, it is necessary to have these discussions in advance. For example, if an adult caregiver of a parent feels like the system is necessary, yet the parent is not willing to accept it in the home, the concept may cause more stress than it would prevent. Further, if a physician’s office deems it medically necessary to monitor someone from home, there may be more than one person who needs to be trained on the system. Frank discussions about what the data may mean and the context in which it should be interpreted are in order.

Safety of Electronic Data:

The Civic Research Institute cautioned that responsibility accompanies privacy and ethical considerations in terms of sharing that information in a way that can have the most meaningful impact on the person who is being monitored. Clearly defined protocols for sharing data electronically (i.e. electronic health records or email) need to be developed. Wireless transmission of data brings its own set of unique privacy concerns since the ability to intercept transmissions certainly exists. It is not beyond the scope of imagination that a person motivated to gain access to someone else’s health records would be able to intercept data and decrypt it. Investigative research and protocol sharing in this area still needs to be performed.

Trading privacy for security may not be as clearly defined as the Georgia Institute of Technology study would have patients believe. The next generation of elderly – Baby Boomers – may not be willing to accept technology in the home that can track and record movements, transmit information to other family members and a doctor’s office, and still purport to remain private. Further research to determine how much privacy individuals are willing to give up in order to remain in the home still needs to be done in order for telehealth systems to continue to develop.

For those who are comfortable using the technology in the home, it is able to accomplish many tasks, including helping keep family and physicians informed about basic health concerns. It helps overcome many barriers, like forgetfulness and patient compliance issues. Those who opt to use it should consider the ramifications of relinquishing some measure of privacy and determine if the trade-off is worth it.


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