When is a lot still not enough? Health information, the public good and privacy rights
The United States health care system is the largest in the world. With annual spending approaching 2.3 trillion dollars in 2009, it eclipses the entire gross domestic product of many other countries. Yet unlike many other industrialized nations, it is a fragmented system that relies primarily on private markets for its provision. This reliance has led to similarly fragmented information about the health of individuals that in turn limits in some cases even a cursory understanding of the health of the population as a whole. Many have argued that some form of collective health information about the population is imperative to the betterment of society, and have called for uniform data collection that links health, socio-economic indicators, indicators of health risks and the like so that future interventions might be better targeted most effectively. Yet others believe that such mandatory data collection is a violation of personal privacy and the basic rights of American citizens. The question remains: what level of information gathering is the appropriate one, and is health information collection possible that serves the public interest while still respecting the privacy of patients and citizens?