Patient Power

Information for patients from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

    SPECIAL ISSUE:  MEDICAL PRIVACY AND THE INTERNET

Your copy of “Patient Power” is provided courtesy of your doctor and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).  As a member of AAPS, your physician is one of the elite of the medical profession--those dedicated to the sanctity of the patient/physician relationship through the practice of private medicine.  He has agreed to practice the art of medicine under uncompromising ethical principles: to treat you with the highest respect for your dignity and to protect your privacy and rights as a patient from intrusion by the government, insurance companies or HMOs.

WARNING:  Health Web Sites May be Hazardous to Your Privacy

Consumer health care sites on the Internet provide a wide range of clinical and diagnostic information, products and services, and a way to communicate with other patients.  Some of the information is good, some not so good -- to the point of fraud.  But all share one serious problem -- They cannot guarantee your privacy!

 

AAPS is alarmed at the widespread breach of patient’s privacy.  For this issue, we have researched studies and consulted with a nationally recognized privacy expert.  We hope the information and suggestions will give you the Patient Power to protect your medical records.

Study shows Anonymity is a Myth

 

   The California HealthCare Foundation issued a Jan. 2000 report on privacy policies and practices of 21 of the most visited health-related Web sites -- the big names you hear about all the time, such as WebMD, drkoop.com, drugstore.com, planetrx.com, ivillage, yahoo, and altavista.

 

Their finding?  Visitors to health Web sites are not anonymous, even if they think they are. Even if a health Web site has a privacy policy, there are a number of ways that your information is available to unauthorized users.

Personal Information is Tracked and Sold

 

   Once you identify yourself in any way on a Web site, your information is no longer anonymous.  Most Web sites track all of your online activity through profiling -- information that is very valuable to advertisers.  When you click on a banner ad on the site, your information is then sent to the ad network, such as DoubleClick.  They can sell that information to anyone they want, and you won’t even know it.  USA Today reports that DoubleClick alone has collected 100 million files about users and their online habits.

Web Sites Use Outside Contractors to Examine Your Records

 

   Sites that offer health assessment questionnaires that ask you to enter detailed medical and personal information often send that information to other companies that they contract to do the evaluations.  So when you take that innocent “Wellness Test,” you have no idea who is getting your information or what is done with it. 

May Be Fatal to Your Patient-Physician Privilege

 

   Communication between you and your doctor is privileged and confidential. But medical privacy expert Robert Gellman of Washington DC warns that if you disclose that information to a Web site, then that privilege may be lost: “Not only do these Web sites offer little or no privacy, they may actually strip consumers of other privacy protections.”

Privacy Policies:  Subject to Change

 

   Again, from Mr. Gellman:  “Web sites typically reserve the right to change their privacy policies at any time.  They usually place the burden of monitoring the changes on their customers.  This means that a Web site with a strong privacy policy at midnight could make a change and start selling consumer data at 12:01 a.m.  Even a good policy with an unlimited change provision may be worthless.”

Protect Yourself and Your Family

 

   Mr. Gellman offers 3 simple rules of thumb for consumers using health Web sites:

   If you find an ad from Doubleclick on the site, leave immediately.

   If the site asks you for your name or any other identifying information, leave immediately.

   If the site’s privacy policy says that it is subject to change without notice, leave immediately.

“A good health Web site will do more than just meet those three rules, but these are a good start for consumers,” advises Mr. Gellman.

 

AAPS HAS MORE HELP AT www.aapsonline.org

 

Log on to the AAPS Web site for more information about protecting your privacy, as well as crucial patient information such as how to talk to your doctor, the latest on vaccines, and government attempts to put your records into a central database. Our site is completely anonymous.  You will not be asked to identity yourself, and AAPS accepts no advertising. Or call our Patient Hotline at (800) 419-4777.

Click Here for News Release Concerning Web Site Privacy

More Information on Patient Privacy