There have been recent exposures of poor health care performance in many countries with western health care systems. The poor performance has either related to poor or criminal practices routinely going undetected or to organizational indifference or hostility to staff raising concerns about perceived poor standards of care. The demonstration that routine performance data monitoring would have detected and prevented many of the deaths attributed to poor surgical standards in the Bristol Royal Infirmary paediatric cardiac surgery scandal and criminal behaviour in the Harold Shipman scandal has highlighted the need for routine data collection to demonstrate to both health care administrators and patients that minimum standards of clinical practice are being achieved. The recent proposal that surgical report cards represent an important minimum ethical standard for health care consent will force the medical profession to engage in the debate surrounding routine data collection for performance monitoring and other purposes. This article considers the cultural background to data collection in the medical profession and the cost implications of failing to improve data collection in the areas of performance monitoring and incident reporting. A potential solution developed by the Geelong hospital group and in use in Australia is proposed as a novel, technologically appropriate and working example of practical data collection. This model is endorsed by the professional specialties and supported by modern regulatory theory. The individual, local and system wide benefits of such personal professional data collection are outlined and the necessary prerequisites are detailed.