Patients discuss private matters with their doctors with the implicit understanding that the information exchanged is private. In reality, more and more people are gaining access to these confidential medical records ad using the information in ways you never intended.
Read on to see what could happen if you aren’t careful with your medical disclosures.
Behind the Scenes
These days, insurance companies, credit bureaus and the like have assembled sophisticated databases that contain loads of private information. Unbeknownst to you, this information may be shared with other insurers, potential employers, marketing firms – and sometimes sold to anyone who will pay for it. Worst of all, information you divulged to help your doctor help you may be used with just the opposite result. Here are four true horror stories.
A company changes the insurance policy to limit coverage for AIDS-related problems after learning that an employee has tested HIV-positive.
A man is denied life insurance after telling his doctor he was feeling “down” because he feared his company might be the victim of a hostile takeover.
A woman is fired after her employer learns she needs a kidney transplant.
A hospital employee uses a computer to access the phone numbers of teenage female patients, then calls them up and sexually harasses them.
What to Do
To provide top-notch medical care, doctors need complete access to the most sensitive matters – drug use, sexual habits, etc. Patients should be able to trust that their secrets will remain secret. If a young man doesn’t feel comfortable telling a doctor he’s gay, for example, then the doctor may misjudge the significance of a symptom, order the wrong tests, miss diagnoses and the opportunity to treat. Until legal loopholes that allow unauthorized dissemination of medical information are closed, how can you minimize your risk? Below are several strategies that might help:
Never sign a blanket disclosure form. Before agreeing to the release of your medical records, make sure you know who will be allowed to see them, which information they’ll be given access to and what they need the information for.
Remind your doctor that your information must not be shared with anyone without your consent.
Consider asking your doctor not to include especially sensitive information in your record. You might say, “If I tell you something very personal that may be relevant to my care but that I don’t want to be written in my chart, would you respect my wishes?” If your doctor is unwilling to honor your request, you’ll have to decide whether you still want to reveal the information.
Keep in mind that keeping important information out of your chart could compromise your care down the road – especially if you see another doctor or if your doctor fails to remember what you said. Keep information out of your record only if you feel doing so is absolutely essential.
Be wary of any medical information you give out, no matter how innocent it seems. A TV ad once offered free information on pollen counts to anyone who called an 800 number. The names of those who called were then used by the drug company that had sponsored the ad to market an allergy medication.
Get a copy of your medical records to make sure all information is factually correct. An error in your chart could lead to the loss of employment or future insurance coverage. In most states, you have a legal right to your medical records. In the rest, you can ask your doctor for a copy of your chart. If your doctor won’t provide it, you’ve got to wonder whether your doctor views health care as a democracy or a dictatorship.