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Medical Privacy, take two

A few days ago I wrote a blog post in which I asked why there is so much fear about medical privacy.

There were many comments on the post, but they mostly missed my point. So let me try again.

Many people wrote about public humiliation. I understand why people wouldn’t want the size and location of their hemorrhoids published on the front page of the newspaper. We can all agree on this.

What I was really trying to say is that no one else cares about your hemorrhoids. They aren’t going to publish stories about them in the newspaper, and if the information was widely available on the web, I doubt many people would have any interest in searching for it. As a criminal, there would be no money to be made by stealing this information. All this makes me think that we don’t need to worry about this private information being made public because nobody has any incentive to make it public.

Let me give a parallel example. I think most people would be embarrassed if the contents of their trash was printed as the headline of the local newspaper. Yet, almost everyone is content to leave their trash out in the alley for anyone who wants to pick through. It turns out that neither reporters nor neighbors are interested enough in the contents to make a habit out of going through trash.

So let me pose the question another way: why do people think that absent stringent rules there would be such demand for access to their medical records when there is no demand for looking through other people’s garbage?