Over Troubled Water: E-Health Platforms and the Protection of Personal Data: The Case of Portugal

Title: Gonçalves, M.E., Raimundo, J.(2017) Over Troubled Water: E-Health Platforms and the Protection of Personal Data: The Case of Portugal, Portuguese Journal of Public Health, DOI: 10,1159/000477650.

Date: 2017

Publisher: Portuguese Journal of Public Health

Link: https://doi.org/10.1159/000477650

Publication type: SScientific journal article

Research Project: N.A.

Abstract: How healthcare is being administered is nowadays one of the distinctive traits expressing the progress of a given society. The steadfast implementation of e-health services has become an indispensable tool in order to bring the provision of healthcare to the next level. Notwithstanding e-health’s actual and promising applications, e-health hinges on highly sensitive information on patients’ personal lives and even intimacy, which, in Member States of the European Union (EU), must comply with the pertinent personal data protection legislation. In effect, health data have been classified as a special category of personal data by Directive 95/46/EC, the Data Protection Directive (DPD). The DPD subjects the processing of personal health data to a specific, stronger protection compared to less sensitive personal data in the form of a prohibition, which can only be excepted when the data subjects grant their explicit consent to the processing or if such consent is overridden by a superior interest provided by the law. Aware of the major changes brought about by technological progresses in this field, the EU initiated in January 2012 a revision of the DPD. Eventually, Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) were published in May 2016, to be applicable as of spring 2018. Regulation 2016/679 displays an even greater carefulness with the safeguard of health data than the DPD. Yet, it is unclear whether this legal reform is up to the challenge of current technological developments, particularly, as so-called big data technologies advance. Notwithstanding the impulse that the EU is placing on e-health and cross-border cooperation, e-health systems are developing primarily at the domestic level. In this article, we will seek to review and compare different e-health platforms now operating under the public health system of a EU member state, Portugal, with a specific focus on how the legal protection of personal data is being configured for each of them. Given the growing importance of big data in the field of health, we extend our comparative endeavour to this emerging phenomenon.

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