There’s a massive political debate raging in the US right now over healthcare, and it’s not just about health insurance and recent initiatives to provide coverage. Another large debate involves how much personal information the healthcare system requires in order to effectively treat patients.
On the one hand, a national healthcare database makes sense, at least on the surface. It seems logical that a doctor can find out all of the medications a patient is taking with just the touch of a button. If a person is brought to the hospital unconscious, it could be lifesaving for the medical professionals to know that he’s a diabetic, even when he can’t speak for himself to tell them. With so many drugs that counteract and can cause death, having a person’s medical history can mean life or death.
But at the same time, we’re a system made up of human beings, people who can make honest mistakes or commit very real and intentional crimes. Access to all of our private information is a scary thought to responsible consumers.
Some medical experts and politicians are calling for a different kind of structure, one that allows access to medical information instantaneously, but without all of the access that comes with it. By structuring medical data collection more like online shopping and less like the IRS, they hope that more support will be given for a database like this.
Attempts at this kind of data collection have failed in the past over privacy issues, especially in the collection of the information and its later sharing. Consumers cannot be expected to turn over their information if they don’t know where it’s going to end up. The day when pharmaceutical companies send advertising to your home address because they found out you have high blood pressure doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the type of healthcare solution.
Wherever the debate takes us, one thing that cannot happen is for a system to be based on Social Security numbers. When the Social Security system was first unveiled, it was written in place that the number cannot be used as an ID number, and that it can only be used for tax reporting purposes. You are never required to share that number with a medical provider or his office, and it cannot be used as part of the record keeping system. While your health insurance provider typically has access to that number—since they will be using it in conjunction with your financial and credit identity—your doctor’s office or hospital is not entitled to and cannot refuse to treat you for not sharing it.
The real fear from consumers isn’t over how the government plans to use personally identifiable information where our healthcare system is concerned, but it’s more about the unthought of threats, the ways that no one currently envisions access to this information hurting us. Supporters of the measure have outlined the benefits of big data and oversight, but more cautious supporters have stated that we need safeguards in place and outlined legislation to protect our privacy before it can move forward.
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