New approaches are being taken in providing health care, which is posing new research questions and changing the setting with which much research is conducted. Much more research now is being performed on data from private-sector managed-care organizations, for instance.
Also, new approaches are being taken in research, such as elaborate computerized analysis of large multipurpose health databases. And health factors such as genetics are being explored as never before.
For many reasons, the public are rightly apprehensive about the erosion of privacy of information about their health, generally. Among other matters, the security of computerized health records and electronically-transmitted health data is not fully assured. And potentially many harms can be suffered from unwarranted disclosure.
Respect for individuals will be best served not by insisting on absolute privacy, which is unattainable in modern life anyway, but by seeking informed consent to reasonable use of health information under strictly delimited conditions; by safeguarding personal data carefully; by genuinely affording fair-information-use rights to data-subjects; and by enforcing sanctions against improper use.