Privacy as a Right?

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.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • “I’ve personally wondered why most people would really care.” You clearly are not a diabetic. When that word appears on your medical chart, you are essentially uninsurable, unless you work for the government, a company large enough to purchase group coverage, or are on welfare. The reason medical privacy is such a concern is that the people who need medical care the most are punished for telling the truth. A study just came out that proves it — those with chronic medical problems are most likely to hide information from their providers. Think about it a little while, and you will come up with the logic that makes our health system the most expensive and least effective in the industrialized world.

  • Actually I had this very situation happen to my family. My wife recently had a medical problem that prevented her from getting Insurance. We were quite upset and surprised since it was something that we’d never have to see a doctor for again and in our minds shouldn’t have impacted her ability to obtain insurance. So, you are saying that she could have just lied on the forms and they would have insured her? While I find this deplorable and wrong I could see the rock and a hard place situation this places people in.

    However, you described the solution we decided to use which was work for a larger company that had a group policy. I think now since we’ve had continued coverage they can’t ask questions anymore and we could get coverage on our own(at least that is my primitive understanding).

    If we would have lied to the insurance company then I’d probably be doing free lance web design right now and not EMR. Which means this blog wouldn’t exist. Would you really want that now?

  • what if your personal medical info ends up on the internet/facebook for entertainment value just because an employee at the hospital knew me

  • nancy houser,
    Then, the employee of the hospital is likely to be punished and as has been done they often lose their job. Depends on the details of the circumstances though.

  • How can I send a private email to you, to ask a very personal question which I feel is a hipaa violation, But the Doctor told my daughter it was not. I just wish for this information to not be on the internet.

  • Hi Amanda,
    I’ll drop you an email, but you should know that I’m not a lawyer and from the sounds of it, you need a lawyer.

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