VMware report raises concerns of healthcare AI data storage

With increasing public anxieties over data protection and cybersecurity breaches, there are wide debates over AI use within the healthcare sector

A report has revealed that the majority of the UK public want their NHS data stored in the UK, in the wake of security concerns and advances in AI.

It reveals that people still have cybersecurity concerns when it comes to where their personal and sensitive data is stored, particularly in relation to healthcare. In June 2023 alone, a group of leaders in cybersecurity united to establish an Advisory Council to address security challenges encountered by the rapidly digitising healthcare sector.

Overall, 56% of the UK public do not trust the NHS to use AI to effectively analyse patient data, even if it would help deliver patient results faster.

Wider global concerns about how AI handles sensitive data

Cybersecurity risks to the healthcare sector are only expected to intensify as digitalisation continues to advance through mediums like AI.

Previous research from MIT revealed that there were concerns over privacy and that anonymous patients could be “re-identified” without their consent whilst being analysed by AI. AI Magazine has previously reported how data being compromised in this way could hold back the entire global health industry from future opportunity.

Public anxieties over data protection have never been higher, particularly when large companies suffer security breaches or hacks. Fujitsu in particular was heavily criticised by the Japanese government for its cybersecurity failings in the wake of a massive data breach that affected numerous companies. 

The VMware report in particular was conducted in June 2023 by an online survey of over 2000 participants over the age of 18. It was commissioned by VMware, with figures from YouGov Plc

The majority (87%) of UK consumers believe it is important that their NHS patient data is stored in the UK, according to research presented by cloud computing company VMware. Yet, whilst more than half of the UK public trust the NHS to store and analyse patient data safely, they are still concerned about where it is stored, according to the report.

Of those who stated it is important for their data to be stored in the UK in the VMware report, more than a third (39%) think that their data stored within the country’s national borders would ensure that it complies with UK data privacy regulations. 

A fifth (22%) do not trust other countries to safeguard their data as well as the UK, with 21% believing it will be less susceptible to foreign cyber threats or access to foreign entities.

Business concern over critical data being compromised

AI has great use case potential within the healthcare sector, but it must ensure maximum safety. Businesses in particular must feel as though all of their sensitive data is being well protected.

According to the report, 42% of business leaders are very or extremely concerned about their critical data being managed by US cloud providers, with 62% having expressed that their current clouds are not meeting data sovereignty requirements.

Many NHS and social care providers today use non-national public clouds, meaning that patient data is currently hosted in a provider currently deemed adequate by the UK. However, if it is a non-national provider, the data could be subject to external jurisdictional control.

Guy Bartram, Cloud Evangelist EMEA for VMware said: “By embracing cloud sovereignty, the NHS can build public trust and assertively maintain governance, fortify data protection and help unlock the true value of critical and sensitive patient data in delivering patient services.”

Sovereignty extends beyond where data is stored, but also how it is used by platforms such as artificial intelligence (AI), which analyses the data to feed algorithms. The general public surveyed by VMware have diverse opinions regarding AI in healthcare, with 45% open to its use for improved services and 44% happy with the NHS using the technology to process patient data if it meant that the NHS could process diagnostic tests faster. 

However, 25% were against the NHS using AI to process patient data, speaking to wider global concerns about patient trust in a rapidly digitising world.

“Ongoing digital transformation and the increased use of emerging technologies such as AI, have spurred both excitement for true innovation to revolutionise our NHS, but also a new urgency for how this boom in data will be securely managed and stored,” said Dr Will Venters, Associate Professor of Information Systems, London School of Economics. 

“With the increased use of multiple clouds to create, store and distribute apps – apps which the NHS needs relies on from front-line clinicians through to optimising operations - it is essential to patient trust that the NHS protects sensitive patient data, and this can be achieved by protecting it with sovereign clouds.

“AI has created new data opportunities so it is critical the NHS can make better use of its data, to build a resilient and patient-centric healthcare system that the UK needs.”

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