Articles / Healthcare and privacy: the importance of getting the balance right

Healthcare and privacy: the importance of getting the balance right

Safe handling of privacy-sensitive data is in the DNA of healthcare organisations. But growing digitalisation and automation throw up new challenges. It is therefore more important than ever to strike the right balance between privacy and the best possible healthcare.

Online solutions have also become increasingly available in healthcare in recent years. There are plenty of examples. Take platforms for exchanging data on patients or care activities. Or online tools that make collaboration easier. And communication tools that we also use privately, e.g. WhatsApp. Organisations and their employees have been using them on a massive scale since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. They facilitate work and improve healthcare.

Sensitive data

The only question is: how will the use of these tools affect clients’ privacy-sensitive data? As an organisation, how do you safeguard their rights in this area? Sharinne Ibrahim is a lawyer at Boels Zanders, whose specialisations include data protection and privacy. According to her, healthcare providers are naturally accustomed to handling sensitive data securely: “Of course, medical confidentiality has been observed since time immemorial. For this reason, the introduction of the GDPR in the healthcare sector was perhaps less disruptive than in other sectors. But with all the new technological possibilities, security awareness is sometimes lost sight of. For example, you might wonder how secure it is for a doctor and a nurse to exchange photographs of patients via WhatsApp. Or how secure it is that dozens of healthcare providers have access to client files, because it’s impossible to arrange things differently in the system.”


In many cases, the move to new digital and online tools makes sense, as technical innovations can significantly improve healthcare. And that is ultimately what clients want as well. But good healthcare is not the only thing they want. They also attach great importance to their privacy. Sharinne: “In the Netherlands in particular, we are very cautious when it comes to sharing medical data. It’s always a question of striking a balance between maintaining privacy and providing the best possible care.”


New tools and capabilities based on big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms, for example, have been on the rise for several years. In addition, government initiatives such as the European Health Data Space (EHDS) are also under discussion. Sharinne: “So you certainly can’t afford to rest on your laurels as a healthcare institution. The sector will be faced with too many developments in digitalisation and automation to allow that.”

Legal support

At Boels Zanders, we are advocates for good healthcare for all and healthcare providers who enjoy their work. For this reason, we don’t confine ourselves to ensuring that contracts are legally watertight and organisations are compliant. “We also see the opportunities and possibilities provided by innovations in healthcare,” Sharinne said. “With this prospect clearly in the front of our minds, we offer the best possible support to a sector that faces a challenging future.”

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