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      Addressing the data guardian and geospatial scientist collaborator dilemma: how to share health records for spatial analysis while maintaining patient confidentiality

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          Abstract

          Background

          The utility of being able to spatially analyze health care data in near-real time is a growing need. However, this potential is often limited by the level of in-house geospatial expertise. One solution is to form collaborative partnerships between the health and geoscience sectors. A challenge in achieving this is how to share data outside of a host institution’s protection protocols without violating patient confidentiality, and while still maintaining locational geographic integrity. Geomasking techniques have been previously championed as a solution, though these still largely remain an unavailable option to institutions with limited geospatial expertise. This paper elaborates on the design, implementation, and testing of a new geomasking tool Privy, which is designed to be a simple yet efficient mechanism for health practitioners to share health data with geospatial scientists while maintaining an acceptable level of confidentiality. The basic premise of Privy is to move the important coordinates to a different geography, perform the analysis, and then return the resulting hotspot outputs to the original landscape.

          Results

          We show that by transporting coordinates through a combination of random translations and rotations, Privy is able to preserve location connectivity among spatial point data. Our experiments with typical analytical scenarios including spatial point pattern analysis and density analysis shows that, along with protecting spatial privacy, Privy maintains the spatial integrity of data which reduces information loss created due to data augmentation.

          Conclusion

          The results from this study suggests that along with developing new mathematical techniques to augment geospatial health data for preserving confidentiality, simple yet efficient software solutions can be developed to enable collaborative research among custodians of medical and health data records and GIS experts. We have achieved this by developing Privy, a tool which is already being used in real-world situations to address the spatial confidentiality dilemma.

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          Most cited references 43

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          k-ANONYMITY: A MODEL FOR PROTECTING PRIVACY

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            The Second-Order Analysis of Stationary Point Processes

             B. Ripley (1976)
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              Geographically masking health data to preserve confidentiality.

              The conventional approach to preserving the confidentiality of health records aggregates all records within a geographical area that has a population large enough to ensure prevention of disclosure. Though this approach normally protects the privacy of individuals, the use of such aggregated data limits the types of research one can conduct and makes it impossible to address many important health problems. In this paper we discuss the design and implementation of geographical masks that not only preserve the security of individual health records, but also support the investigation of questions that can be answered only with some knowledge about the location of health events. We describe several alternative methods of masking individual-level data, evaluate their performance, and discuss both the degree to which we can analyse masked data validly as well as the relative security of each approach, should anyone attempt to recover the identity of an individual from the masked data. We conclude that the geographical masks we describe, when appropriately used, protect the confidentiality of health records while permitting many important geographically-based analyses, but that further research is needed to determine how the power of tests for clustering or the strength of other associative relationships are adversely affected by the characteristics of different masks.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                jxa421@case.edu
                ajc321@case.edu
                jxc1546@case.edu
                Journal
                Int J Health Geogr
                Int J Health Geogr
                International Journal of Health Geographics
                BioMed Central (London )
                1476-072X
                21 December 2019
                21 December 2019
                2019
                : 18
                Affiliations
                ISNI 0000 0001 2164 3847, GRID grid.67105.35, Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, School of Medicine, , Case Western Reserve University, ; Cleveland, OH USA
                Article
                194
                10.1186/s12942-019-0194-8
                6925902
                31864350
                © The Author(s) 2019

                Open AccessThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

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                Research
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                © The Author(s) 2019

                Public health

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