Anonymizing Health Data: Case Studies and Methods to Get You Started (2013)


Although there is plenty of research into the areas of anonymization (masking and de-identification), there isn’t much in the way of practical guides. As we tackled one anonymization project after another, we got to thinking that more of this information should be shared with the broader public. Not an academic treatise, but something readable that was both approachable and applicable. What better publisher, we thought, than O’Reilly, known for their fun technical books on how to get things done? Thus the idea of an anonymization book of case studies and methods was born. (After we convinced O’Reilly to come along for the ride, the next step was to convince our respective wives and kids to put up with us for the duration of this endeavor.)


Everyone working with health data, and anyone interested in privacy in general, could benefit from reading at least the first couple of chapters of this book. Hopefully by that point the reader will be caught in our net, like a school of Atlantic herring, and be interested in reading the entire volume! We’ve identified four stakeholders that are likely to be specifically interested in this work:

§  Executive management looking to create new revenue streams from data assets, but with concerns about releasing identifiable information and potentially running afoul of the law

§  IT professionals that are hesitant to implement data anonymization solutions due to integration and usability concerns

§  Data managers and analysts that are unsure about their current methods of anonymizing data and whether they’re compliant with regulations and best practices

§  Privacy and compliance professionals that need to implement defensible and efficient anonymization practices that are pursuant with the HIPAA Privacy Rule when disclosing sensitive health data

Conventions Used in this Book

The following typographical conventions are used in this book:


Used for emphasis, new terms, and URLs.


This element signifies a tip, suggestion, or a general note.


This element indicates a trap or pitfall to watch out for, typically something that isn’t immediately obvious.