Sharing government health data with the private sector: Community attitudes survey
Journal of Medical Internet Research
Background: The use of government health data for secondary purposes, such as monitoring the quality of hospital services, researching the health needs of populations, and testing how well new treatments work, is increasing. This increase in the secondary uses of health data has led to increased interest in what the public thinks about data sharing, in particular, the possibilities of sharing with the private sector for research and development. Although international evidence demonstrates broad public support for the secondary use of health data, this support does not extend to sharing health data with the private sector. If governments intend to share health data with the private sector, knowing what the public thinks will be important. This paper reports a national survey to explore public attitudes in Australia toward sharing health data with private companies for research on and development of therapeutic drugs and medical devices. Objective: This study aims to explore public attitudes in Australia toward sharing government health data with the private sector. Methods: A web-based survey tool was developed to assess attitudes about sharing government health data with the private sector. A market research company was employed to administer the web-based survey in June 2019. Results: The survey was completed by 2537 individuals residing in Australia. Between 51.8% and 57.98% of all participants were willing to share their data, with slightly fewer in favor of sharing to improve health services (51.99%) and a slightly higher proportion in favor of sharing for research and development (57.98%). There was a preference for opt-in consent (53.44%) and broad support for placing conditions on sharing health information with private companies (62% to 91.99%). Wide variability was also observed in participants’ views about the extent to which the private sector could be trusted and how well they would behave if entrusted with people’s health information. In their qualitative responses, the participants noted concerns about private sector corporate interests, corruption, and profit making and expressed doubt about the Australian government’s capacity to manage data sharing safely. The percentages presented are adjusted against the Australian population. Conclusions: This nationally representative survey provides preliminary evidence that Australians are uncertain about sharing their health data with the private sector. Although just over half of all the respondents supported sharing health data with the private sector, there was also strong support for strict conditions on sharing data and for opt-in consent and significant concerns about how well the private sector would manage government health data. Addressing public concern about sharing government health data with the private sector will require more and better engagement to build community understanding about how agencies can collect, share, protect, and use their personal data.
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