Your Medical Privacy at Risk

by Gerri Willis

 

Your health care information including your medical data, history, treatment, even your shopping habits at the pharmacy is the next big frontier in the battle for consumer privacy.

Everything from your prescription data to hospital records and insurance details is being collected not by just your doctor, hospital and insurer, but also by data clearing houses, retail pharmacies, marketing companies and employers.

Even pharmacy loyalty cards-the ones that provide consumers with discounts and coupons- play a role in helping marketers figure out what kinds of health care products to sell to you.

You may have heard the story of the Minneapolis area dad who found out his young daughter was pregnant after Target started sending promotions for baby clothes and furniture to their house. Astute marketers know that young women that buy certain types of vitamins and clothes are probably pregnant. Targeting them early is a competitive advantage. If Target marketers can  convince a young pregnant woman to shop at their stores, she may stay for life.

Clearly, the business of buying and selling medical data is big, and  medical privacy expert Dr. Deborah Peel told me an individual's health information is even more valuable than their social security number.

“This data is the most valuable personal information about you. More valuable than anything," she says."Many people know that personal information like your social security number is very valuable for identity thieves. It costs somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar to get a social security number, but your medical records can be bought for $14-$24 each online!”

Of course there are federal rules about how much of this information can be shared or even sold.

But much of the medical establishment is either too busy or too disinterested to pay a lot of attention to them. The results of a Health and Human Services audit of 115 health care providers and insurers released May 10, showed that the vast majority of them failed to comply with federal guidelines for privacy. They say they didn't know the rules. 

 

 

For more on how your medical records are being used and abused - tune in tonight to the Willis Report for a special investigation at 6pm ET on the Fox Business Network.