CIA Investment in Health IT Stokes Privacy Fears

The CIA's venture arm funds a company that makes software that helps manage health IT records; privacy advocates are worried the software could be misused.

Privacy advocates are worried that the CIA has invested in a company commonly used to help manage health IT records in the United States and Canada.

In-Q-Tel, a private venture group established by the Central Intelligence Agency, led a Series E investment round in Initiate Systems earlier this year. The group is charged with providing solutions to the CIA and the greater intelligence community.

Initiate Systems IdentityHub software uses a variety of identification protocols to determine whether records stored under similar names in different databases refer to the same or different patients. It also uses such demographic information as birthdays and address to match records to people who have used different names.

The software helps companies find stored information about clients or patients in real time, and it also helps to identify and delete duplicate records. It has also been used to quickly find prescription information when patients enter the emergency department.

The company announced the investment in March. In a statement, Bill Conroy, president and CEO of Initiate Systems, said that the investment marked his company as "the leader in information sharing and entity identification technology."

"Working with In-Q-Tel allows us to provide the intelligence community with already proven technology that directly addresses national security needs. The exposure within the intelligence community that we have already experienced as a result of In-Q-Tels involvement has been tremendous," Conroy said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifConcerns about privacy could derail efforts to establish a national health information network. Click here to read more.

Initiate Systems serves a number of clients across several industries, including financial services and hospitality.

The software is also used by large health care providers, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Canadas nationwide electronic health record initiative, and Sutter Health. The software helps pull together records at different institutions rather than requiring a common data repository.

Ironically, Initiate Systems usually pitches itself as a company that helps protect privacy by easing demand for a national patient identifier. Some health IT advocates have posited assigning all citizens a unique number that could be used to pull together patient information from unrelated health care facilities.

However, privacy advocates who spoke with Government Health IT said that they were worried the software could be misused to snoop on patients private health information. The company and its clients have said that such fears are misplaced.

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