A vote for even greater transparency in health care
The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario wrote a recent blog post “Privacy is not a Barrier to Releasing Non-Identifying Statistics“.
In particular, the IPC noted an example that the public wants to know how serious the flu-threat is in their community, a risk often measured by the number of local flu-related deaths. Public members have contacted the IPC to say they are having trouble getting that kind of information.
There can be tension between privacy rights of individuals and the public interest. But in this case, there is an answer. Privacy laws do not limit non-identifying statistical reporting. It is possible for health authorities to release such data without violating individual rights or legal responsibilities to protect personal health information.
There’s a good reason to capture such data and make it public. Real local data helps us understand public health risks and realities. Reliable and timely data can be hard to come by. Proactive sharing of helpful non-identifying statistics improves the public trust in our health care system and can equip us all to take more control over our health.
As an aside, health care organizations subject to freedom of information or municipal freedom of information legislation are required to make public general records (non-identifying statistical records for example) that already exist, subject to exceptions and exemptions. Those organizations are not, however, required by law to create new records that do not already exist. As explained above, there may be good reasons to create new records in order fulfill an ethical responsibility to communicate in a way the public can understand, especially if requested to do so.