Public Health Confidentiality in the Digital Age, Term Paper Example

Write an open letter addressing the community and explain how the department is going to protect the information. In your letter, address the following questions: Explain why the health department collects this information conveying the idea of how it serves the greater good.

There has been a recent breach of public health records containing private patient information. You might be contemplating the reason for your county public health department using sophisticated mechanisms to store these data. However it is important for you to know that public health record keeping is part of the World Health Organization mandatory surveillance program whereby public health agencies internationally had to document incidences of certain diseases and periodically report to them (WHO, 2013).

Surveillance happens to be a continuous ‘systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data essential to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health practice’ (WHO, 2013). The purpose is reporting to World health Organization measures taken within a country or specific geographic location to prevent and control spread of high risk diseases. This is important because it establishes a universal monitoring system which can readily identify eminent public health emergencies thereby signaling the need for application of early intervention. Also in documenting World Health Organization along with the specific countries can monitor how targets are achieved regarding prevention and control of communicable diseases and others vulnerable to certain populations. Ultimately, the data diffuses to the greater good when World Health Organizations uses the information to guide public health policy in the targeted communities in their health education and promotion strategy (WHO, 2013).

Discuss the public’s interest in privacy and why this is important in our society.

According to Meyers (2008) and colleagues balancing personal and society interests as it pertains to privacy has always been a challenge in modern societies. In this digital age concerns regarding confidentiality of private data be it medical or otherwise has been threatened, especially, when data is exposed to the World Wide Web. Despite how astute the technology and safety devices employed to protect personal information breaches occur from time to time. Many of them originate from public and government agency data bases. Hence, the public has serious concerns regarding private health information. This information can be used against individuals in lawsuits and tarnish their character. At all cost the public expects that public agencies such as data bases protect them from such exploitation (Meyers, 2008)

Discuss why the department needs to infringe on the community’s privacy.

In my opinion if communities feel that in the public health departments’ surveillance purpose it is infringing on their privacy, it might be a misinterpretation regarding rights to privacy. Public health underlying purpose is to ensure a safe healthy environment. This can only be achieved if personnel have at their disposal raw data to support research on any disease and its progression within communities. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that this infringement of privacy to occur for the benefit of the entire society and world (Bayer & Fairchild 2002).

Meyer (2008) reiterated that while modern technology can help reduce threats of undue disclosure through application of sophisticated electronic record keeping software these technological developments are relatively new.  During data transmission and storage privacy and security errors do occur despite the assurance that these systems operate with the optimum functionality. These risks can be greatly reduced, however, through staff training in data acquisition, use, maintenance, storage and sharing. Obviously, this explains that while the department needs to infringe on the community’s privacy it is necessary to protect it as well since infringement on the community’s privacy is inevitable from a public health perspective (Meyers, 2008).

Explain how the department might ensure greater security.

Departments can ensure greater security by acquiring modern electronic record keeping software/systems. Allow a greater amount of staff to be trained in use of the devices; evaluate the system over time to ensure it is functioning according to the promises of providers. In the same way as healthcare is a business installation of electronic record system is a business too. Often consumers do not receive what they paid for. As such, public health administration must devise their peculiar strategy in assessing whether the system is storing, maintaining and sharing data according to the privacy rules (Fairchild, 2006).

It would be important to assign a competent agency individual in a leadership position to supervise confidentiality and security issues within the system. These key persons could be ‘chief information officer public; health information officer, chief information security officer’ (Meyers, 2008 p. 794).

Be sure to identify at least one applicable regulation, statute, or source that supports the ability of the department to collect this information.

While Public Health Agencies have been widely accused of storing and using patient’s data without consent according to legislation this practice has been sanctioned HIPAA privacy rule authorizing government to collect residents’ health information; employees have permission to access clinic and hospital patient data. Networks do not have to obtain consent from patients, store neither share health records (Meyers, 2008).


Bayer R., &  Fairchild A (2002). The limits of privacy: surveillance and the control of disease. Health Care Anal. 10:19–35.

Fairchild, A. (2006). Public health: diabetes and disease surveillance. Science. 313, 175–176.

Meyers, J. Friedan, T. Bherwani, K., & Henning, K (2008). Ethics in Public Health Research Privacy and Public Health at Risk: Public Health Confidentiality in the Digital Age. Am J Public Health. 98(5): 793–801.

World Health Organization (2013). Public health surveillance. Retrieved on August 30th, 2013 from