Health privacy: where does the balance lie?

Prompted by the questions raised in Adam Tanner’s book ‘Our Bodies, Our Data’, the A/NSW Privacy Commissioner, Dr Elizabeth Coombs, is hosting a debate on health privacy as part of the ‘Privacy Matters’ forum series, held during Privacy Awareness Month.

Panellists will discuss emerging ethical and legal issues in health privacy. The panel includes Mr Chris Puplick AM who has been appointed recently as the only Australian on the UN TASkforce for Health Privacy, established by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, Professor Joseph Cannataci.

The decision to make the management of health data one of the key concerns of the Special Rapporteur, highlights the international consensus around getting the balance between privacy rights and the use of health data for treatment and public policy development right.

Dr Elizabeth Coombs said “We have seen a substantial increase over the past year in health privacy complaints. It appears that we will have managed an increase of over 50% in health privacy matters brought to this office. Health information is so sensitive; it’s potentially not just information about the individual, but it can be about their children, siblings, and parents and it is vital that it’s handled with care.”

The panellists, including Dr Elizabeth Coombs, will be moderated by Dr Norman Swan, Producer of the Health Report ABC. Dr Swan's career has been highlighted by his desire to keep the Australian public informed of health developments as they happen. He is renowned for combining medical expertise with investigative reporting, clear analysis, and knowledge when reporting the latest research in health and medicine. One of the first medically qualified journalists in Australia, Dr Swan is highly regarded by the medical and health professions.

So what is the balance between privacy rights and service provision in the health space? This is the issue to be addressed by the panel at the invite-only ‘Privacy Matters’ forum, to be held on 31 May. This event is the third annual ‘Privacy Matters’ forum supported by First State Super. Previous forums have featured authorities such as social demographer Hugh Mackay AO and former Chief Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG.


Dr Elizabeth Coombs, Mr Chris Puplick AM, and Dr Norman Swan will be available for interviews in the lead up to the event.

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