John Nosta and Sheila Sahni on Patient Privacy: Part 1

Ryan Black

“Privacy is dead, Sheila, I'm sorry to tell you."

John Nosta got philosophical when Healthcare Analytics News™ asked him about patient privacy.

“I think that privacy is a fundamental human truth, but I don’t think that it’s a fundamental human right,” he said. His point was that humankind’s very understanding of the concept has been altered by technology, and that it will continue to be. That shifting understanding becomes even more complicated when applied to healthcare, an institution also rapidly adjusting to technological breakthroughs.

Following a panel at the Digital Pharma East meeting in Philadelphia last month, Nosta and fellow panelist Sheila Sahni, MD, sat down for an interview. Sahni is an interventional cardiologist, while Nosta is President of Nostalab and a healthcare adviser to Google.

Nosta described his thoughts in ultimate terms. He described a patient’s choice to share their health data to inform the field as a “Faustian” bargain.

“I think we're actually becoming a society that is no longer organ donors, but data donors,” he said.

Sahni, on the other hand, carried a clinicians’ understanding of patient privacy concerns. Patients, she said, may not want anyone else to know the conditions they experience.

“You may not want to be a spokesperson. That's the bottom line: It's human disease and it's sensitive, and you may not want to publicly share it with anybody outside of your doctor,” she said. She said even among those who have embraced new technology, there is a healthy degree of skepticism towards data sharing in light of recent breaches.

“I think it's fair to say that breaches and security are moments of sort of heightened awareness but it's not going to change anything,” Nosta replied. “Privacy is dead, Sheila, I'm sorry to tell you. I think it's gone and it's changed in basic and fundamental ways.”