DOD, Microsoft sign deal to data mine health records – Privacy advocate sees further erosion of medical record confidentiality

The Defense Department has signed an agreement with Microsoft under which the software vendor will help develop tools and methods for analyzing the department’s 9.1 million electronic patient records to find better ways to manage the health of DOD beneficiaries.
Under the cooperative research and development agreement, Microsoft will work with the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center to extract, store and analyze data stored in DOD’s Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) electronic health record system.
The AHLTA clinical data repository (CDR) is “an untapped goldmine of health information, and the ability to draw upon and efficiently use this data will allow us to unleash the true power of AHLTA,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs. “This project has the potential to vastly improve our ability to provide both force health protection and population health improvement activities for every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine.”
Microsoft and the Army center aim to develop a clinical data warehouse (CDW) that provides predefined queries of interest to clinicians and analysts. The warehouse also will support data mining, which uses clustering and pattern recognition techniques to discover previously unknown correlations in the data. Intel and HP are providing support on security, sizing, and scalability testing of the CDW architecture, Microsoft said.
Dr. Deborah Peel, chairwoman of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, views the patient information not as a goldmine ripe for exploitation but as a collection of personal and sensitive health information that needs to be zealously guarded and only accessed with express consent by the patient.
Gurujeet Khalsa, federal health care architect for Microsoft, said in an interview that the data warehouse would provide health care researchers with data stripped of identifying information. That data will help them focus on population health issues such as diabetes. Clinicians at military hospitals and clinics, on the other hand, will have access to identifiable data on their patients so they know, for example, that they should schedule a diabetic patient for a foot exam.

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