New Legal And Ethical Challenges Of Big Data

As data technology advances, the ethical challenges of big data increase and raise questions that society has never faced before.

September 28, 2018
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New big data concerns are changing business and the health industry.

Data is now one of our world’s most precious resources, and over the last few years, businesses have been learning how to use it to become more successful and profitable. Big data, a term that is used to refer to the use of analyzing large datasets to provide useful insights, isn’t just available to huge corporations with big budgets. Companies of all sizes are getting in on the action to improve their marketing, cut costs, and become more efficient. As a result, ethical challenges of big data have begun to surface.

Big data is useful in nearly any industry, but it has huge potential in the healthcare field to trim waste and improve the patient experience. Although there are lots of advantages to using data in healthcare, there are some challenges that are slowing down widespread adoption in the industry. New legal and ethical challenges are affecting the future of big data in healthcare, and other industries too.

New Risks of Big Data

It’s no secret that electronically storing patient data has led to a whole host of new problems in the last few years. Cyberattacks, leading to data breaches, have compromised the privacy of millions of patients in the United States. In 2017 alone, there were 477 breaches identified at healthcare organizations, affecting 5.6 million patient records.

Beyond blatant theft, electronic records give healthcare providers better research tools, allowing predictive analytics to identify patterns in large datasets. While this is fantastic for medical research and treatment, there are ethical challenges of how to use the data without harming patients. All health businesses are needing to adopt better ways to implement security and keep patients records private.

Technology, although it’s helped businesses evolve and given more analytics to work with, it’s also opened up an even greater number of lawsuits for various complaints. Everyone is extra cautious of breaking laws and malpractice because they don’t want a lawsuit. Issues around big data and security are arising in many fields, and it’s necessary to be mindful of best practices in whatever field you’re in.

The Benefits of Big Data in Healthcare

Healthcare is one of the largest industries impacted by big data. So what is big data accomplishing in healthcare to justify the risks? Lots of things. Although there are certainly issues and concerns with big data, overall it is transforming businesses, especially healthcare.

If you’ve ever waited for what seemed like forever in your doctor’s waiting room, big data can help with that by more accurately predicting the timing for patients and scheduling appointments accordingly. Big data can do more in the hospital than make wait times shorter, though—it can save lives and reduce emergency room visits. Real-time data reporting can have a positive impact on patient outcomes, helping providers with decision-making in a way that benefits patients.

Human error accounts for many deaths, especially when medications are mixed up. Big data can be used to cross-reference potential interactions and provide warnings when errors arise. Big data also has the potential to improve public health as a whole, as analytics makes it possible to track the health of communities and populations and more easily notice health trends. In order for these benefits to be maximized, transparency in data is critical.

Avoiding Lawsuits in the Medical Industry

Doctors and hospitals can’t just think of providing care, they unfortunately have to consider the potential for lawsuits as well. Each year, there are more than 17,000 malpractice cases in the United States. With the benefits of big data clear, how can hospitals use this powerful tool while protecting themselves from litigation?

Unfortunately, there is no way for providers and organizations to prevent a lawsuit in every situation. Medical malpractice happens when mistakes are made often from being careless and not fully taking care of the patient well. They are a part of the cost of doing business, and they will occur on a fairly regular basis, if people are not careful. However, awareness and mindfulness of regulations and ethical best practices is the best way to minimize litigation. Practitioners also need to care for themselves and be mindful of how they show up at work—showing their dedication and communicating with patients instead of making assumptions is key to both optimizing outcomes and preventing lawsuits.

Balancing the Good and Bad of Big Data

There’s no doubt about it: big data is important to healthcare, and necessary.  Rather than fearing the legal issues, businesses must create ethics and regulations to support their business. There are always going to be bumps along the way, but the power of big data can’t be ignored. Big data is changing many industries, saving more patients, and improving the quality of healthcare.

Anyone in the field needs to realize how important it is to keep up with the changing trends and regulations. Healthcare professionals have a very important job, and they now need to be concerned with patients’ privacy as well as their health and well-being. Having good intentions and making an effort to stay informed is the best way for healthcare providers to navigate the emerging world of big data in healthcare. Lawsuits are scary—but that fear is no excuse to not deliver the best care possible. It’s time for healthcare to catch up with other industries and implement everything from business intelligence strategy to big data initiatives.