Are privacy-enhancing technologies for genomic data ready for the clinic? A survey of medical experts of the Swiss HIV Cohort Study

the Swiss HIV Cohort Study

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Purpose: Protecting patient privacy is a major obstacle for the implementation of genomic-based medicine. Emerging privacy-enhancing technologies can become key enablers for managing sensitive genetic data. We studied physicians’ attitude toward this kind of technology in order to derive insights that might foster their future adoption for clinical care. Methods: We conducted a questionnaire-based survey among 55 physicians of the Swiss HIV Cohort Study who tested the first implementation of a privacy-preserving model for delivering genomic test results. We evaluated their feedback on three different aspects of our model: clinical utility, ability to address privacy concerns and system usability. Results: 38/55 (69%) physicians participated in the study. Two thirds of them acknowledged genetic privacy as a key aspect that needs to be protected to help building patient trust and deploy new-generation medical information systems. All of them successfully used the tool for evaluating their patients’ pharmacogenomics risk and 90% were happy with the user experience and the efficiency of the tool. Only 8% of physicians were unsatisfied with the level of information and wanted to have access to the patient's actual DNA sequence. Conclusion: This survey, although limited in size, represents the first evaluation of privacy-preserving models for genomic-based medicine. It has allowed us to derive unique insights that will improve the design of these new systems in the future. In particular, we have observed that a clinical information system that uses homomorphic encryption to provide clinicians with risk information based on sensitive genetic test results can offer information that clinicians feel sufficient for their needs and appropriately respectful of patients’ privacy. The ability of this kind of systems to ensure strong security and privacy guarantees and to provide some analytics on encrypted data has been assessed as a key enabler for the management of sensitive medical information in the near future. Providing clinically relevant information to physicians while protecting patients’ privacy in order to comply with regulations is crucial for the widespread use of these new technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Clinical genomics
  • Encryption
  • Genetic test reporting
  • Genetic testing
  • Genomic privacy
  • Homomorphic encryption
  • Privacy-enhancing technologies
  • Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Informatics


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