Private Healthcare?

An article in the Sunday New York Times caught my eye. It talked about a possible government mandate to standardize computerized health records, if the industry doesn’t come up with a set of technical standards on its own. The benefit of electronic records outlined in the article is undeniable: A predicted $170 billion cost savings from redundant paperwork and tests, plus a sharp reduction in medical errors, which account for more deaths (45,000 to 98,000 annually) than breast cancer or motor vehicle accidents. Not to mention “other data mining possibilities” like national health research.

Privacy arguments aside, electronic health records will become standard. We live in a digital age and we have a health care system desperately in need of an overhaul.

But then today I read another NYT article and suddenly the vision wasn’t so rosy. This article was about a privacy breach by the data collection agency ChoicePoint. It outlined the problem of current laws not keeping pace with the emergence of powerful data miners, who “amass and distribute vast digital dossiers on ordinary citizens.” Basically, these dossiers are readily available not only to banks and potential employers, but also to insurance agencies, private investigators, and even the U.S. Government.

I’m not normally one to gripe about Big Brother, having given in to the privacy-is-bunk theory years ago. And I would personally be thrilled to have all of my extraneous health records compiled into one electronic file that can be accessed by doctors and hospitals nationwide. But the combination of these two articles gave me pause. What do you think?

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