The Washington Post has done extensive research on the opioid epidemic thanks to database access gained through the Freedom of Information Act. You can dig into the data yourself here.
Here is a case where access to health data is allowing researchers and the public to understand one of the public health issues of our day. Given the results few people might argue that these data should have remained private. Yet the data is the aggregate of anonymized individual private data.
Some rhetorical questions:
- Would we be able to get individuals to release their opioid consumption data, even anonymously?, probably not.
- Is access to these data of public interest?, certainly.
- Would the health entities with access to the data have done the research themselves?. Probably not, and in any case no single entity would have access to the aggregate data.
Food (and data) for thought.