Privacy and Health Research. 3. Data from Research, Research on Data


Contemporary health research is generating a multitude of benefits for humankind, and the future benefits look at least as promising. The following sketches can hardly do justice to the myriad complex activities. But they indicate some of the research purposes and approaches, the character of the data, and the privacy-protection problems involved.

As the above title indicates, health research generates new data by observation and experiment, but also—in part because its questions are of such an "applied," practical nature—it often proceeds by analyzing data that were originally collected for another purpose. The two approaches can have different implications for privacy.

The purposes of research are many, and they overlap. Research is conducted:

  • To advance basic biomedical science
  • To know patterns of health, disease, and disability
  • To reduce public-health threats
  • To understand utilization of health care
  • To evaluate and improve practices
  • To make effective innovations
  • To analyze economic factors
  • To appraise markets.