Researchers Address Security and Privacy in Healthcare as Part of $15 Million Project


Two Dartmouth researchers are part of a new research endeavor funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) focused on security and privacy in healthcare. The 12-institution consortium, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is one of four projects funded by HHS as part of a $60 million initiative called Strategic Healthcare Information Technology Advanced Research Projects (SHARP). Dartmouth will participate in the SHARPS group focused on security.

Professor of Computer Science and Associate Dean for the Sciences David Kotz ’86 is working on the SHARPS project. (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

David Kotz ’86, professor of computer science and associate dean for the sciences, and Denise Anthony, associate professor and chair of sociology and the research director of Dartmouth’sInstitute for Security, Technology, and Society, are both members of the project team.

The SHARPS research grant is for $15 million over 4 years, and it brings together a national team that includes researchers from Carnegie Mellon UniversityHarvard Medical SchoolJohns Hopkins UniversityNew York UniversityNorthwestern Memorial HospitalStanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Washington, and Vanderbilt University, in addition to Illinois and Dartmouth. Computer Science Professor Carl Gunter, who is with the Information Trust Institute at Illinois, is the project’s lead investigator.

“For information technology to achieve its potential as a tool to improve quality and reduce costs in healthcare,” says Kotz, “these systems must protect the privacy of patient information and must be secured so that medical staff and healthcare organizations can trust the data.” He adds that his group’s research will guide the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology as it develops and deploys systems like the National Healthcare Information Network.

The entire SHARP initiative of HHS takes on four areas of growing concern in the realm of healthcare information technology:

  • security and risk mitigation
  • patient-centered support tools for healthcare professionals
  • new and improved network architecture to support secure exchange of information
  • the secure secondary use of electronic health records for research purposes.
Dartmouth’s team will address the first area, security and risk mitigation.

Anthony’s research expertise in healthcare delivery will be put to use to understand how the legal, organizational, and clinical environments influence the secure use and effectiveness of health information technology. “The many stakeholders in healthcare have high expectations about the benefits of information technology, but those benefits will be achieved only with careful attention to the often complex contexts in which they are used. Our goal is to bring such understanding to the development and implementation of secure, privacy-preserving health IT,” says Anthony.

Kotz adds, “The SHARPS project builds on Dartmouth’s broad interdisciplinary foundation in research on security and privacy,” says Kotz. “Indeed, this project is a perfect complement to another ISTS project on trustworthy IT in healthcare, nicknamed TISH, supported by the National Science Foundation. The two projects fit well, providing another path for our TISH work to have a national impact, and providing the SHARPS project access to important research already underway at Dartmouth.”

Susan Knapp