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[Editorial] Patient records leak

Medical info on 90 percent of population handed over

Medical information on nearly 90 percent of Korean population was sold as big data to a multination firm, raising concerns about safekeeping of the highly confidential information.

A company specializing in developing medical fees settlement programs used by hospitals and the Korea Pharmaceutical Information Center -- which distributed free pharmacy management software to nearly half of the country’s pharmacies -- were caught having sold a vast amount of data to a multinational firm, IMS Health Korea, whose U.S. headquarters, in turn, processed the big data and sold information on pharmaceuticals usage to companies in Korea.

The 2011 law on personal information protection law forbids the usage of personal information and medical information without consent. The Korea Pharmaceutical Information Center, in fact, is currently being tried for illegally collecting and distributing medical information in 2013.

IMS Health raised a 7 billion won profit by selling its report, created using illegally collected data, to Korean pharmaceutical companies. While medical data are necessary in developing clinical research programs and new drugs, such data should be collected by legal means. The concern in this case is that a vast amount of data changed hands without consent and that the nature of the data was highly private.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare should improve how patient data are protected. While all leakages of personal information are deplorable, leakage of information on one’s medical condition is a grave matter.

A large-scale credit card holder information leak last year -- of an estimated 100 million cases -- and illegal sales of personal information of KT subscribers scandalized the country, leading President Park Geun-hye to order a plan to prevent a repeat of such incidents. However, Koreans have been hit by another mass breach of personal information, this time involving 90 percent of the entire population. As big data are increasingly mined for various purposes, the government should come up with measures that will strictly protect personal information against illegal uses.

Korea Herald daum