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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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