Your Health Information Isn’t Secure But Don’t Blame EHRs

There’s a lot of talk about the risks of storing health information in electronic medical records (EMRs). But, EMRs aren’t the problem. Those consent forms you sign at the doctor’s office… yeah, you should pay attention to the fine print. You may be giving permission to insurance companies, drug makers, and data aggregators to access your health information, regardless of how or where it’s stored. Sorry to get all sour grapes, but we just want to set the record straight. Here’s what you need to know about who can see your health information, how they can legally use it, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Your Doctor Isn’t the Only Person Who Knows Your Diagnosis

Have you heard of the Medical Information Bureau (MIB)? What about IntelliScript and MedPoint? These organizations, among others, build databases of Americans’ private medical information and sell it to other companies (MIB, a non-profit, only provides the information to its members). It’s perfectly legal. But, ethical? Well, you decide.

Data aggregators track down diagnoses codes, lab data, and prescriptions from databases such as those kept by pharmacy benefit managers. The data is later sold to health and life insurance companies to assess the risk of writing a policy. In other words, they can use it to determine rates, or possibly deny you service. However, we should point out that the MIB uses proprietary codes and only receives this information from member companies. The codes are “brief resumes” that act as “red flags” about a particular medical impairment or risk to a patient’s mortality or morbidity. MIB members aren’t supposed to make underwriting decisions based solely on a code.

Some of these organizations even perform analysis for insurance companies. For example, IntelliScript from Milliman provides insurers with drug profiles of patients. In each patient profile, they assign color codes to a drug – red, yellow, or green – in order to indicate its risk factor. Red means risk. It could be used to spotlight drugs for serious illnesses like cancer or AIDS.

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