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Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc.
A Voice for Private Physicians Since 1943
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Contact: Kathryn Serkes (202) 333-3855 Click here for Patient Alert


Washington -- The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) issued an alert today warning patients of the security dangers when using health Websites.

The alert, to be distributed to millions through doctors' offices, cautions patients about lax security and intentional sale of personal and medical information by many of the most popular health Web sites.

"This industry is cashing in on trafficking in people's personal medical records," said Jane M. Orient, MD, Executive Director of AAPS. "They'll do everything they can to pry, cajole or coax information from consumers to make money for their stockholders."

AAPS is alarmed at the widespread tracking and sale of personal medical information. "They post sham privacy policies that aren't worth the electricity they take to display," said Dr. Orient.

The alert cites a recent report by the California HealthCare Foundation analyzing the privacy policies and practices of 21 of the most visited health-related Web sites. The report concludes that anonymity is a myth, and that many Websites are willing participants in furnishing and selling information to third parties. "They looked at the big names you hear about all the time, such as WebMD, drkoop.com, drugstore.com, planetrx, ivillage, yahoo, and altavista -- not some basement start-ups," said Dr. Orient.

Web privacy violations detailed include: the sale of online profiles to ad networks such as DoubleClick; the release of information to unauthorized third-party contractors to perform health assessments; and the mercurial nature of privacy policies, that can change at any time without patient notification. "That innocent 'Wellness Test' could mean the end of your privacy," said Dr. Orient.

National privacy expert, Robert Gellman, warns that conventional privacy protections between doctors and patient are threatened. "If a patient discloses information to a Website, then the privilege may be lost. Giving information to health Web sites may be fatal to your physician-patient privilege," said Gellman.

Recommendations to patients from Gellman include avoiding sites that carry ads from DoubleClick, that ask for names or other identifying information, or state that their privacy policy is subject to change at any time. "These are red flags that you should leave immediately," said Dr. Orient. "Patients beware."

AAPS is a professional association dedicated to protecting the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship.