Syndromic Surveillance and Patients as Victims and Vectors
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 187-195, 2009
14 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2009
Date Written: December 2, 2009
The burgeoning availability of electronic health data allows the development of techniques of “syndromic surveillance”: attempts to identify behavioral or symptom patterns of potential significance to ascertain a developing public health threat as quickly as possible. By collecting and mining real-time data about disease indicators, possible outbreaks of diseases can be targeted even before the diseases themselves have been identified. Despite its public health benefits, syndromic surveillance poses novel problems for bioethics and health law. Informed consent is problematic, for example, because the significance of any particular test result or symptom observation is unknown absent an observation of developing patterns. Drawing on the authors’ prior work in understanding patients as victims and vectors, this article analyzes the ethical issues raised by syndromic surveillance and proposes solutions to them.
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