You go into a doctor’s office for a checkup or to a hospital to get a bum knee checked out and you are immediately handed a clipboard to fill out a form where you are expected to surrender all of your most important information. Name, date of birth, social security number, health history, drugs you take every day, prior surgeries. The list goes on.

What happens to all that information once you hand it in with your copay?

That issue will be part of the agenda during a “Software Engineering Leaders Lunch” at the law firm of Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein & Blader on Grovers Mill Road on Thursday, February 26, from noon to 2 p.m. The event is sponsored by the New Jersey Tech Council of Mount Laurel. For more information, E-mail info@njtc.org. Free to members, $25 for nonmembers.

Healthcare information that can be connected to an individual is protected by federal law under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Yet there is an entire industry that is concerned with taking healthcare data, separating it from the patient it came from and whose condition it describes, and then aggregating the now “blind data” (this industry is a jargon-rich one) into large samples that can be analyzed and crunched to determine the effectiveness of drugs, for example, over large populations.

The healthcare industry finds itself dealing with a 21st century problem when considering what happens next to all that aggregated information — especially as it enters the rarefied atmosphere of “the cloud.”

Chirag Desai, 42, is vice president of information technology at PDI Inc. of Parsippany, a sales and marketing firm that caters to pharmaceutical clients. PDI offers IT commercial systems. He grew up in Metuchen and lives in Princeton with his wife, who works in marketing for a chemical company, and their two children.

“I’ll be talking about data protection, data ownership. I’ll be talking about those kinds of topics as a consumer of data. The panel is just to bring various people in the industry together to discuss issues of data ownership, intellectual property,” Desai says.

There are few more compelling issues for most people than data protection. At one time, Desai says, information technology for healthcare companies amounted to buying software, installing it, and having people available from time to time to maintain it. The volume of healthcare data collected today has increased exponentially compared to five years ago, Desai says. As the ability to compile ever-greater amounts of data has increased, new concerns and legal issues have come with it.

“We’re not a software company,” Desai says. “There are all sorts of companies that aggregate data. PDI is a consumer of aggregated data. We collect sales and marketing data. We don’t collect patient information. We deal in aggregated data.”

This aggregated data becomes a product that PDI’s customers can use for various healthcare-related analyses. Information from healthcare facilities is also aggregated for patient data, diagnostics, administrative, documentation, and practice management

“As this product has developed, it is now more cloud-based,” he says. In a cloud-based operation, the company has to stand behind it and offer high-operability.” Translation: any outage is unacceptable.

This will be part of Desai’s presentation — best management practices that ensure “high operability.” PDI is also branching out with its own diagnostic software targeting thyroid and pancreatic diseases, Desai says.

But in the world of aggregated data, he says, there are a multitude of gray areas.

“Who owns the data we collect?” Desai says. “What are the security issues, intellectual property, what are some of the skill sets required? With healthcare data, there is a question of who owns the data. Your data is yours. But if I aggregate that data, who does that belong to? Who has access to it? These are some of the growing challenges for the industry to figure out. This particular area is where there are a lot of companies starting up.

“Once you start aggregating that data, patient-related data, you collect more and more and start aggregating it demographically, to say this drug was effective for this demographic. It can be used in a multitude of different ways. What are the issues we need to be aware of to protect that data not only for our customers but for the industry in general?”

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