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Health digital identity work progresses

Monday, 10 February 2020  
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Picture: healthAlliance head of clinical informatics Karen Blake and Ministry of Health manager architecture and standards Peter Marks presenting at the HiNZ Conference 2019. editor Rebecca McBeth


A Ministry of Health working group has developed a draft health and disability sector person digital identification framework.


The Ministry’s health digital identity technical working group has spent the past 18 months creating the framework and will next develop similar documents for identity of organisations, facilities, applications and devices.


healthAlliance head of clinical informatics Karen Blake and the Ministry’s manager architecture and standards Peter Marks presented on the project at the HiNZ Conference 2019 in Hamilton in November.


Blake said health digital identity is a key enabler for interoperability as there needs to be a way of accurately identifying a person in the health system in order to safely share data about them.


It is important for clinical safety so the right services can be provided to the right person at the right time. 


The working definition of health digital identity is “the electronic representation and description of an entity (a person, other legal entity like an organisation, or an asset like an IT application or medical device) in the digital world of health”.


This involves a collection of many different pieces of information, or attributes, about an entity in a digital format that can be verified. 


Blake said some things that most people would consider a “stable attribute” and therefore a good signifier of identity might be things like date of birth, but for people such as refugees that is not always known or provable.


She detailed some of the ethical and process challenges the team have had to consider, such as whether a person’s digital identity starts before they are born and continues to exist after they die. 


Another issue is who should have control over the digital identities of people in their early teens, as they may not want their parents to know all of their health information.


“We need to make sure that we can have privacy and confidentiality over information, and that we can delegate your consent to other people,” she explained.


Marks said there are a significant number of challenges on the technical side as well. Key to this has been educating people about what is meant by digital identity as it is not the same as an identifier, such as the National Health Index.


“The digital identity’s purpose is answering the question of, ‘Are you who you claim to be? And how do I know that’s true?’,” he said.


He described an identity provider as “the cornerstone mechanism for the whole digital identity framework” as it issues the digital identities and verifies people’s claims and their entitlements.


“The notion here is that it’s not just one agency that would issue digital identities and verify digital identities,” Marks said. 


“You could have an agency that would issue digital verified address, another to issue a digital verified eligibility status for residency and another one for access to health.”


People will sit at the centre of the process and have control over the sharing of their information.


“You’ve got all of these organisations that you’ve got an association with, and they’ve got an association with you, and it builds up that chain of trust,” he said.


“And then people get to choose on a transaction by transaction basis which of those attributes they share with an agency or an organisation that’s requesting it.”


Watch the presentation free in the eHTV Webcast Library: Health Digital Entity: Update 2019


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story, please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


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