Opportunity for Innovation or Potential Data Breach Nightmare? Project SPARK Announced in Ontario

Project SPARK, an initiative recently announced by the government of Ontario, Canada, is seeking to make healthcare data more accessible. As part of Canada’s nationwide single payer healthcare system, the government of Ontario has access to a significant number of patient health records, all located within a single database. This is in contrast to places like the United States where medical data sits within disparate data silos whose walls are only starting to come down. While clinicians already access much of this information at the point of care, the effort aims to provide patients with greater access to their health information while facilitating digital health innovation.

SPARK is a pathway allowing patients to access and contribute to their own medical records while ensuring access for their health service providers. For software developers, start-ups, health service providers, and vendors working with Health Information Custodians (HICs), SPARK is “designed to support innovators with market-ready or in-market digital health solutions.” SPARK asserts that it is positioning itself to foster innovation and will not itself develop or invest in technology. Avi Goldfarb, tech economics researcher at the University of Toronto believes, “This is an interesting initiative that has potential to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.”

While many of the key components of SPARK are still in development, innovators can complete an expression of interest survey. There are reportedly already 100 companies interested in participating in the program.

While SPARK is aimed at a number of lofty goals, the initiative, and more specifically the potential implications of exposing patient records to third-parties, is drawing concern. “Making health data available for academic research is an important step in advancing our understanding of diseases and cures. At the same time, when multiple entities, including for-profit ones, receive access, it becomes extremely important to ensure that the data cannot be de-anonymized, especially when used in conjunction with other private datasets,” Christian Catalini, founder of MIT’s Cryptoeconomics Lab commented to Futurism last month.

Expressing more direct criticism, Robert Chu, CEO of Embleema and former SVP at IMS Health stated that, “Project Spark is doing the bare minimum to protect citizens’ privacy, since citizens will still be bundled with others with similar health diseases, treatment regimen, and age group – plenty of fuel for companies and insurance payers to invade their daily life with targeted advertisements and enquiries. ”

Link: Project SPARK…


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