Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Controlling the dissemination and disclosure of healthcare events

Jatinder Singh

February 2010, 193 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted September 2009 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, St. John’s College.

DOI: 10.48456/tr-770


Information is central to healthcare: for proper care, information must be shared. Modern healthcare is highly collaborative, involving interactions between users from a range of institutions, including primary and secondary care providers, researchers, government and private organisations. Each has specific data requirements relating to the service they provide, and must be informed of relevant information as it occurs.

Personal health information is highly sensitive. Those who collect/hold data as part of the care process are responsible for protecting its confidentiality, in line with patient consent, codes of practice and legislation. Ideally, one should receive only that information necessary for the tasks they perform—on a need-to-know basis.

Healthcare requires mechanisms to strictly control information dissemination. Many solutions fail to account for the scale and heterogeneity of the environment. Centrally managed data services impede the local autonomy of health institutions, impacting security by diminishing accountability and increasing the risks/impacts of incorrect disclosures. Direct, synchronous (request-response) communication requires an enumeration of every potential information source/sink. This is impractical when considering health services at a national level. Healthcare presents a data-driven environment highly amenable to an event-based infrastructure, which can inform, update and alert relevant parties of incidents as they occur. Event-based data dissemination paradigms, while efficient and scalable, generally lack the rigorous access control mechanisms required for health infrastructure.

This dissertation describes how publish/subscribe, an asynchronous, push-based, many-to-many middleware communication paradigm, is extended to include mechanisms for actively controlling information disclosure. We present Interaction Control: a data-control layer above a publish/subscribe service allowing the definition of context-aware policy rules to authorise information channels, transform information and restrict data propagation according to the circumstances. As dissemination policy is defined at the broker-level and enforced by the middleware, client compliance is ensured. Although policy enforcement involves extra processing, we show that in some cases the control mechanisms can actually improve performance over a general publish/subscribe implementation. We build Interaction Control mechanisms into integrated database-brokers to provide a rich representation of state; while facilitating audit, which is essential for accountability.

Healthcare requires the sharing of sensitive information across federated domains of administrative control. Interaction Control provides the means for balancing the competing concerns of information sharing and protection. It enables those responsible for information to meet their data management obligations, through specification of fine-grained disclosure policy.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Singh, Jatinder},
  title = 	 {{Controlling the dissemination and disclosure of healthcare
  year = 	 2010,
  month = 	 feb,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-770},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-770}