Your medical information is not private, and it’s sold routinely

Privacy, is it important to you?  Do you believe that your medical and personal information should be kept in strict privacy?  Do you expect your doctor to keep your information private? What is the cost of privacy?

The computer I am typing this article on is protected by Norton’s Security Suite and by Comcast’s Constant Guard.  My friends, family, and patients invest a small fortune every year to keep their computers secure.  Their computers contain highly private information:  important information like their emails, contact lists, and passwords.

Your medical records contain even more vital information:  highly personal secrets about you, things that should never be shared with anyone.  Your medical records are protected by strict laws.  Your information can only be shared with your permission.  Your wife and family do not have access.  Your priest does not have access.  Only you can release your most personal information.  Your medical information is private, or is it?

Your medical information is not private.  You sell it without realizing it.  Have I got your attention?

Ever look at your office bill or EOB (explanation of benefits)?  On your bill are coded numbers (CPT and ICD9).  Those numbers tell your insurance company or Medicare exactly what you have and exactly what I did.  In order to have your medical bills covered by your insurer or government, you authorize the release of all of your most personal information to them.  They not only get the bill with all of its coding, they have the right to look through your chart and any other charts in any other docs’ office at anytime!  You sell your privacy for the cost of your care (or whatever is covered).   Is it really worth it?  What is the cost of privacy?  Is privacy valuable to you?

Can your loss of privacy hurt you?  Do you really want some faceless clerk in some insurance company’s cubicle reading about that piercing you got while you were drunk?  I don’t think so.

I think privacy is one of the most valuable assets you can have.  I believe in the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship and that what you tell me should be held in the strictest confidence.  How else are you supposed to be able to tell me truths that are embarrassing or worse?

Now that you know the medical world’s dirty secret, the secret that has been right in front of your face all these years, it’s time to answer the question, “What’s your privacy worth to you?”

Stewart Segal is a family physician who blogs at Livewellthy.org.

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