A key concern for research undertaken using Australian patient records is personal data privacy. In line with the Department of Health’s Data Access and Release Policy, there is a commitment to unlocking the greatest possible public value through better use of datasets in research. This means that the department may make patient health records available to researchers. This must be done so in an appropriately confidential, de-identified form.
The challenge for Agile Digital with partners at Gulanga Group and Vault Systems was how the Health department can still benefit the community without risking data breaches or the re-identifying of patient data.
The Department of Health agreed to the following project goals:
- Deliver security-certified cloud deployment and secure web access for authorised parties to a federated collection of datasets, meeting the My Health Record specification.
- Ensure metadata, networks, management systems and security operations will be maintained in Australia by staff vetted by the Australian Government with appropriate security clearance.
- Provide an elastic storage capacity for effectively unlimited dataset storage & search indexing.
- Demonstrate how research collaborators may share & analyse datasets in the Hub without downloading raw datasets.
- Demonstrate how each upload, view and access of datasets will be recorded (notarised) permanently.
The key insight was to avoiding distributing bulk data to health researchers. Instead, we created a powerful data science lab environment that brings researchers to the data. By automatically notarising all data access and data science experiments on public blockchains, we have ensured a trail of information that supports an audit and scientific publishing. The engineering approach was to:
- Secure the entire solution in ASD-certified Government cloud infrastructure (by Vault Systems).
- Deploy Hadoop to provide scalable & reliable mass data storage in support of parallel processing of rich data research queries.
- Create a “data science lab” using an open source feature engineering platform.
- Record provenance for each data science experiment. Each derivation of a feature records which data feature(s) it is based upon, how the feature was defined and when it was created.
- Ensure each data experiment (feature) is stored individually so that HDFS security may be used to further restrict access to the data.
- Ensure that all data experiments, data features and data accesses are notarised on indelible public blockchains.
The Secure Health Data Research & Analytics Platform was awarded ACT’s Big Data Innovation of the Year in 2018. The award was for its ability to assist in public health research whilst maintaining patient privacy. The platform went on to win a Merit Award at the Australian Information Industry Association’s (AIIA) National iAwards.
In the Media…
- Australian Department of Health using blockchain for medical research records
- Vault and Agile Digital partner on “first” Fed Govt blockchain implementation