If you have a mobile device or have been on line for almost any reason, you have surely been confronted with a lengthy statement outlining the terms of your use of the whatever-it-is. In order to use the whatever-it-is, you have to agree to accept those terms. If you are like countless other Americans, you don’t read the text. You just scroll down to the “Accept” box, click it and move on. I am not here today to debate the wisdom of those decisions. What I want to talk about today is the trend in many doctor or hospital waiting rooms of asking you to give up some of your right to the privacy of your medical records.
Under the HIPAA law, the privacy of your medical records and health information is protected against disclosure. You, however, have the right to waive those protections and to disclose as much of your health information as you wish. If you wish to tell others about your health, that is certainly your business. What you don’t want to do, however, is to accidentally agree to waive your privacy rights. That is happening in some doctor’s offices and hospital waiting rooms.
When we go to check in with the doctor or at the hospital waiting room, we are almost always given forms to fill out. Some of them ask for information about our health and insurance status. Others are forms describing billing practices, and information sharing practices. We are asked to sign these forms and show our agreement to be bound by them. Do you know what you are signing? Do you know to what you are agreeing?
Some information sharing is necessary to support billing insurance companies for the services being rendered. Some may be necessary to coordinate care among various providers. These practices need to be disclosed by the provider you are seeing and approved by you. What you need to be on the lookout for is an agreement to allow your data to be shared with people or companies that do not need it for the provider to do her or his job.
More and more often, doctors and hospitals are accepting money or other consideration from outside companies in return for the privilege of asking your permission to sell your data or to target you with advertisements for drugs or other services. These outside companies note what medical conditions you have and choose advertisements that they think might get you to ask for a prescription for their medications or might get you to purchase products they make for your condition. These outside companies cannot sell your data or send you advertisements like that without your permission. They get that permission by including it in the jumble of forms you get when you check in. They may be paper forms or they may be screens on an electronic device. If you don’t read what you are given, you may have become a chump, who just gave up his privacy rights.
Unlike most of the permissions you give when you are using a device or are on line, you can say “No” to this one and still receive your medical treatment. The privacy of your medical information is a big deal. Once your information is out there, you never know how it may be used. It may be used in a manner that affects your ability to get a job or to buy insurance or it may end up on line where everyone can see it.
The only way to protect yourself from this loss of privacy is to read what you are given. Don’t be a compliant sheep who just assumes that all of this is routine and not worth spending the time to read what you are given. Read, read, read and when you are sure you are not waiving your privacy rights, you can sign. You can also decline, if you are being asked to give up your rights. Either way, take a moment to protect yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.