Property, Privacy, and the Pursuit of Integrated Electronic Medical Records1
Who owns a patient's medical information? The patient, the provider, or the insurer? All of the above? None of the above? In the emerging era of electronic medical records, no legal question is more critical, more contested, or more poorly understood. Ownership was never much in doubt in an age of paper-based records, but now that information can be easily digitized and freed from any particular storage medium, confusion reigns. How this issue is resolved can determine how or whether massive anticipated developments in electronic health records will take shape. The respective property rights of patients, providers, and insurers will strongly influence, if not determine, what form of electronic health-record interchange will predominate. And, whether rights to access and use of medical information can be commercialized may determine whether effective, comprehensive medical information networks can emerge at all in the absence of an overt government mandate. This chapter analyzes property rights in medical information from the perspective of network economics. It proposes that patients be allowed to monetize their access and control rights by assigning them to a trusted and regulated intermediary who may then place those rights in a stream of commerce that determines their value and best use. The funds generated can then be distributed both to patients and providers in order to encourage their creation and use of interconnected electronic records.
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