May 22, 2015
A review published in BMJ tackles the issue of anonymisation of patient data to share it for secondary purposes, particularly for research. The authors emphasise the current need for anonymisation standards that can provide operational guidance to data custodians and promote consistency in the applications of anonymisation. This article describes the key concepts and principles for anonymising health data while ensuring it remains suitable for meaningful analysis. The authors believe that methods for measuring the risk of re-identification can be used to decide to what extent health data must be anonymised for different types of data release. They note that, although these methods cannot ensure a zero risk of re-identification, they can ensure a very low risk probability. This does not, however, correspond to thresholds expected by privacy laws and regulations in any jurisdiction. The authors state that organisations such as the European Medicines Agency could help address such gaps by “providing or recommending robust and scalable methods that can provide quantitative anonymity assurances whilst producing high quality data“.