BMC Medical Ethics
(Accessed 8 April 2017)
A critique of the regulation of data science in healthcare research in the European Union
John M. M. Rumbold and Barbara K. Pierscionek
BMC Medical Ethics 2017 18:27
Published on: 8 April 2017
The EU offers a suitable milieu for the comparison and harmonisation of healthcare across different languages, cultures, and jurisdictions (albeit with a supranational legal framework), which could provide improvements in healthcare standards across the bloc. There are specific ethico-legal issues with the use of data in healthcare research that mandate a different approach from other forms of research. The use of healthcare data over a long period of time is similar to the use of tissue in biobanks. There is a low risk to subjects but it is impossible to gain specific informed consent given the future possibilities for research. Large amounts of data on a subject present a finite risk of re-identification. Consequently, there is a balancing act between this risk and retaining sufficient utility of the data. Anonymising methods need to take into account the circumstances of data sharing to enable an appropriate balance in all cases. There are ethical and policy advantages to exceeding the legal requirements and thereby securing the social licence for research. This process would require the examination and comparison of data protection laws across the trading bloc to produce an ethico-legal framework compatible with the requirements of all member states. Seven EU jurisdictions are given consideration in this critique.