Assessing data protection and governance in health information systems: a novel methodology of Privacy and Ethics Impact and Performance Assessment (PEIPA)

J Med Ethics. 2020 Mar 27:medethics-2019-105948. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105948. Online ahead of print.


Background: Data processing of health research databases often requires a Data Protection Impact Assessment to evaluate the severity of the risk and the appropriateness of measures taken to comply with the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We aimed to define and apply a comprehensive method for the evaluation of privacy, data governance and ethics among research networks involved in the EU Project Bridge Health.

Methods: Computerised survey among associated partners of main EU Consortia, using a targeted instrument designed by the principal investigator and progressively refined in collaboration with an international advisory panel. Descriptive measures using the percentage of adoption of privacy, data governance and ethical principles as main endpoints were used for the analysis and interpretation of the results.

Results: A total of 15 centres provided relevant information on the processing of sensitive data from 10 European countries. Major areas of concern were noted for: data linkage (median, range of adoption: 45%, 30%-80%), access and accuracy of personal data (50%, 0%-100%) and anonymisation procedures (56%, 11%-100%). A high variability was noted in the application of privacy principles.

Conclusions: A comprehensive methodology of Privacy and Ethics Impact and Performance Assessment was successfully applied at international level. The method can help implementing the GDPR and expanding the scope of Data Protection Impact Assessment, so that the public benefit of the secondary use of health data could be well balanced with the respect of personal privacy.

Keywords: confidentiality/privacy; regulation; right to healthcare; technology/risk assessment.