eHealth

The Health Internet

Background

Today’s health Internet offers a wide range of benefits, to individual consumers and health professionals, as well as to national health systems and global public health. In many countries the public goes online for health information, participates in online communities and buys products and services for health and wellbeing. Health institutions are part of this trend, as patient records are networked and encounters with the health system increasingly take place online.

The growth of the health Internet globally has also led to new forms of risk. New types of exploitation and fraud include the sale and use of health data of individuals and groups. Mismanagement of health information and electronic health tools has far-reaching consequences for the public, industry and governments. The illegal promotion and sale of medicines (including counterfeits, adulterated or unapproved drugs) and other products poses a risk to health and undermines legitimate trade, and requires an international effort to combat its effects.

Information governance – covering areas of privacy, confidentiality, security and informed consent – is becoming a defining issue of our times. In a global environment, the current complex sets of national laws and regulations are not enough to prevent the sale of health-search information, the exposure of health and other personal data online, and concerns over cybersecurity of medical devices and hospital networks.

The following examples illustrate some of the issues: A recent study highlights that security concerns about health information have to move beyond the traditional concerns regarding sharing patient information from health records, to address the use of health-related information, including web searches, by third parties. A USA-based health insurance provider will pay a $1.7 million fine for exposing more than 600,000 personal records online, the US Department of Health and Human Services said. “As medical devices are increasingly interconnected, via the Internet, hospital networks, other medical devices and smartphones, there is an increased risk of cybersecurity breaches, which could affect how a medical device operates,” the US Food and Drug Administration said in a recent alert.

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Health Internet

Contact information

eHealth
Department of Knowledge, Ethics and Research
World Health Organization
20 Avenue Appia
1211 Geneva 27
Switzerland
Email: ehealth@who.int