Privacy as a Right?

Posted on March 2, 2006 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

A recent article in the Washington Post described a new program where the reports of blood sugar testing had to be reported to the city. I don’t think the writer really knows what they’re talking about since they said

Specifically, if you live in New York and have trouble resisting sweets, your doctor may soon receive a call from the health department suggesting that he or she needs to persuade you to change your lifestyle.

There is no way this is going to happen. It goes against all privacy policies and the city has no business doing it. This information is only going to be used for cumulative general information on trends within the city.

Regardless of this reporter’s inability to report what’s really going to happen he does make a good point

The emerging question is whether medical privacy is a basic right or something more akin to a privilege for which those who want it should pay, rather than shifting the cost to others.

It brings out two fundamental points. First, is it a fundamental(and I would say constitutional) right for someone to have their patient information kept private? I can’t say I’ve really formed an opinion on the subject. I really feel that it definitely can avoid a lot of problems. We all know the example of a parent who finds out about a child’s bad behavior. There are many more that I’m sure you’ve all heard. This is important, but often I’ve personally wondered why most people would really care. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my patient information flopping around like it is the recent basketball scores. However, if my information is useful to help make progress in the health arena then why not? Not to mention I really have nothing to hide. If you asked me I’d probably just tell you anyway. The real question is how do you define which organizations are going to use it for “good” and who is going to do untold things with that data? I sure wish I had the answer to that question.

The second point I found even more interesting. I don’t really care too much about my electronic medical record being private. Many people I’m sure have very strong feelings about their medical privacy. If this is the case, then let them pay for that right. Not an easy task to set up, but I think many people faced with a stack of money versus the security of their patient history would probably take the money. Put money on the line and you really get to see what people find important.

It’s a very complex issue that I don’t have the answers to(and quite frankly I could easily change my opinion either way at this point), but I thought these points were some good food for thought.