Govind Persad


“Security theater” has been defined as an effort to “provide the feeling of security instead of the reality.” The concept of security theater has been discussed in both the popular press and academic literature, but has not yet entered health law. This project suggests that a parallel category of “health theater” picks out a set of practices in medical screening and health care delivery that provide a mere simulacrum of protection against medical risk, rather than providing genuine medical benefit. Part I summarizes some of the distinctive advantages and disadvantages of health and security theater. Like security theater, health theater frequently comes at high cost; employs high technology in place of individualized, personal assessment; and ignores differences between individuals. And, as with security theater, health theater also amplifies general anxiety and ignores the costs of false positives. Part II discusses some of the advantages of health theater, including its capacity to make patients feel respected and to produce psychological security. Part III discusses three potential alternatives to health theater: high-touch medicine, precise targeting of diagnostic efforts, and elimination of threats at their source. Last, Part IV considers how law could support alternatives to health theater, focusing on changes in the financing of health care, changes in liability regimes, and increased investment in public health.

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