The Competing Demands of Patient Privacy and Clinical Research

Ethics & Human Research
Volume 43, Issue 1 January–February 2021

The Competing Demands of Patient Privacy and Clinical Research
Connie M. Ulrich, Christine Grady, George Demiris, Therese S. Richmond


Pages: 25-31
First Published: 19 January 2021
Privacy and confidentiality of personal medical information are cornerstones of ethical clinical care and ethical research. But real‐world research has challenged traditional ways of thinking about privacy and confidentiality of information. In today’s world of “big data” and learning health care systems, researchers and others are combining multiple sources of information to address complex problems. We present a case study that highlights the ethical concerns that arise when a patient who is employed by an academic medical center learns through a research invitational letter that her private information was accessed at this center without her consent. We discuss the ethical challenges of balancing patient privacy with advancing clinical research and ask, what level of privacy and confidentiality can and should patients expect from their clinician providers, fellow research colleagues, and institutions?