Privacy and Nudity

MedX Privacy Panel - photo by Amy Berman

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Stanford Medicine X conference – commonly referred to as #MedX. This was my first time attending #MedX in-person. In the prior two years I watched the conference via live-stream.

If you’ve never been to #MedX I would highly encourage you to go. It is one of the only conferences where physicians, administrators, policy makers, med students, healthIT people and patients rub shoulders. The break-time conversations alone are worth the price of admission.

There were many interesting sessions at #MedX and many speakers had tweetable quotes, but there was one statement that was by far the most memorable. On Day 2, there was a panel discussion on the nature of privacy in healthcare (whether it prevented harm or innovation). The all-star panel included: Colleen Young, Pam Ressler, Jodi Sperber, Wendy Sue Swanson MD and Susannah Fox. During the closing remarks, Wendy Sue Swanson made THE BEST statement:

“People’s attitudes towards privacy in healthcare is like our attitudes towards nudity. Some people are completely comfortable exposing everything. They aren’t concerned with letting it all hang out. Some are comfortable with a bikini, which still shows a lot, but not everything. Some prefer to be completely covered up.”

Comedic gold.

Wendy’s comment is spot on. Privacy and nudity have a lot in common. Both are topics that are rarely discussed openly (in some circles the topic is completely taboo) and in both cases being exposed unexpectedly is something no one wants. The attitude towards nudity is deeply personal and no amount of words or persuasive argument is likely to change it. Just imagine a nudist trying to convince an ultra-conservative to shed their clothes.

However, personal experience CAN change how we feel about nudity…I mean privacy. Consider this example. Say I became ill and was unable to obtain a diagnosis. In this situation I would openly share my symptoms and health data with a wide audience – family, friends, other health professionals and even my social network. At this point privacy would not be a primary concern for me. However, once I begin treatment, privacy would suddenly become more important. I wouldn’t want the world to know everything and I would want my data protected but shared with those that were involved with my recovery. After successful treatment, my attitude would likely change again. I would want a high degree of privacy so that my health issue was not easily accessible to insurance companies or my employer (thought admittedly it’s probably easy for them to find out).

Kudos to this panel for a thought-provoking look at privacy and thanks to Wendy Sue Swanson for making an analogy that I’ll not soon forget.

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.