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Home > Privacy and Business > Medical Privacy > The Value of Free-Flowing Medical Information > Health Care Marketing

Health Care Marketing

It seems natural at first to dismiss health care marketing as the invasion of crass commercialism into some of the most sensitive areas of people's lives. This approach is too simplistic, however, because health care marketing is one of the ways that advancements in medicine and in health-protecting services like insurance are made widely known.

Using health information to market goods and services certainly runs the risk of invading privacy. The inappropriate advertisement or sales call can communicate to people that their sensitive information has been handled indiscreetly. This can be a mortifying offenses to a person's sense of autonomy and dignity.

A blanket prohibition on marketing that uses health care information would be unsatisfactory, even harmful in many instances, however. There are many types of health information that are not viewed by most people as particularly private. There is also tremendous potential value in allowing marketing communications to communicate the existence of new medicines, procedures, and programs to the public. Indeed, marketing is a central part of delivering health care to American patients.

Protections for privacy in the context of marketing should be highly tailored to the context of the medical condition at issue, the nature of the communication, the circumstances of the patient, and so on.

It is highly likely that prescriptive regulation can not provide appropriate guidance for the billions of health marketing communications that occur each year. Rather, a flexible privacy protection regime like the law of torts which meets every harm to privacy with an appropriate punishment is probably best.


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[updated 02/19/01]

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