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Home > Privacy and Business > Medical Privacy > What is Medical Information?

What is Medical Information?

The first step in thinking about medical privacy should be to examine what kinds of information fall into the category of medical information. Because health is so central to our lives, a great deal of information may fall into the "medical" category. This could make blanket protections for "medical privacy" very broad indeed. It could even prevent beneficial and lifesaving uses of information.

Medical information can be just about anything from the fact that a person has acne, or a cold, to the fact that a person has an incurable sexually transmitted disease. A wide variety of intimate personal information is often needed to treat medical patients living arrangements, sexual preferences, behaviors, medical history, and so on. Much information that is commonly not sensitive or private is often also needed, such as body type, race, physical appearance, and so on.

Because medical information can be so many things, any policy on medical privacy should probably focus on sensitive medical information rather than medical information taken as a whole. Though society's judgements should not take control of medical information from the hands of patients, it is useful to recognize that different medical conditions and treatments have different sensitivities.


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[updated 02/18/01]

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