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J Biomed Inform. 2018 Mar;79:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2017.12.013. Epub 2018 Jan 10.

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

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School of Computer Communications Sciences, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.
J.C. Wilt Infectious Diseases Research Centre, National Microbiology Laboratories, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg, Canada; Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.
School of Life Sciences, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland; Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Division of Infectious Diseases, Lausanne University Hospital, Switzerland.
Service of Biometry and Clinical Epidemiology, Fondazione IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo, Pavia, Italy.
School of Computer Communications Sciences, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland. Electronic address:



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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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