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October 2010

Nick Mankovich: Maintaining health care privacy and security

I confess I used to run away from all professional discussions about privacy. I found them murky and contentious: a bit like religion or politics but peopled with lawyers, legislators, and lobbyists! Still, from my comfort zone of managing security controls I wrestled with the notion of privacy, which seemed to be something inside of confidentiality that kept squeezing out through the cracks to be much, much more. Worlds collide when a researcher says, "Well, it's my data about these patients, so I can give you access." My turning point was purchasing an out-of-print copy of Alan Westin's 1967 book Privacy and Freedom. This prescient, insightful work provided a context for these difficult conversations and prompted me to adopt the following definition: "Privacy is the right of the individual to control information about him or herself." When feeling devilish, I'll throw in "perceived right" just to dangle the red cape and begin a lively discussion among colleagues from different countries. Beyond giving me a chance to reflect on...

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