A routine visit to my General Practitioner (Doctor) for a routine physical exam turned out to offer a surprise and an eye opening experience!
When the nurse pulled up my record on the computer, much to my surprise, there appeared two of the medications I had been prescribed by a different doctor. For a moment I was wondering if I was in the right place, and scratched my head thinking, how did they know?
I asked “So all prescribed medications are accessible by any doctor now?” She nodded her head and we discussed how good and important that is, so that two different doctors do not prescribe conflicting medication, and in case someone forgets or does not know, because they are under the care of caretaker who administers medication.
For me however it was rather embarrassing, because I had specifically gone to a clinic rather than my regular doctor for an issue in a private location which would have been embarrassing to discuss with someone I knew, like the doctor I had seen for 20 years. The medicine had been prescribed for a condition that could have many causes, one of which is a sexually transmitted disease. For that reason I decided to deal with this problem privately to avoid suspicion and having to explain anything to anyone. After all, it is nobody’s business but my own.
Being the only one who knows my personal history, I could rule out sexual transmission. But could someone who does not know my history rule it out? No, because I could be lying. And this is where trust and the importance of privacy comes into play. Trust is something that you build up over time. A single violation of that trust can be drastically life changing. A relationship can be lost, a career can be lost, prospects for a new career could be evaporated.
So here I am in my family doctors office, faced with the embarrassment of an elephant in the room, on the computer screen right in front of me, having to explain something I thought was personal and never needed to be explained to anyone. Something I thought was behind me, yet had left it’s digital footprint forever, and exposed not only to the doctor, but to this nurse and whoever else has access to my records. What happened to doctor/patient privilege? Without my claim of innocence, my silence might be interpreted as guilt. With an explanation, my guilt might still be assumed and my explanation doubted. I offered no explanation to the nurse as none was required.
But I found myself quickly imagining the scenario when my doctor comes in. Will we both ignore it? Will he ask? Should I offer an explanation to avoid any assumptions? If I tell the truth will he even believe me? Why did I go to a clinic instead of seeing him about it? Ugh. I felt like walking out but there was no escape, and I could hear his conversation as he approached my examination room. No escape.
In my case, not much harm done here other than some raised eyebrows and embarrassment and an explanation I was trying to avoid. But then I got to thinking, if this information is so easily accessible by anyone in a doctor’s office or pharmacy, why not to hackers? Why not to someone who wishes you malice? There is potential for black mail and extortion, identity theft among other things.
Not long ago, with paper medical records, the only copy of which was in a file folder in my doctor’s office, the only exposure was to those authorized. But now the exposure had the potential of being worldwide.
Even those in the medical industry admit the increased risk of breach of confidence:
From the Journal of Issues in Nursing
Every nurse understands and respects the need for patient confidentiality. As professionals, our connection to our patients and our colleagues depends on it. But, the truth is, advanced technology, new demands in health care, and developments in the world-at-large, make it more and more difficult to keep this promise. But keep it we must!
Not good, because medical privacy is lifesavingly important, which is why the US has HIPAA laws, to increase the patient’s control over his/her health information.
Well I quickly discovered it really is not under the patient’s control and the potential now exists for it to get WILDLY out of control, not just MILDLY. In fact during the US election, we just saw how easy it is for what people assumed was private correspondance to be published in social media and front page news if you are anyone of importance. Why not medical records?
My case is an illustration of why medical privacy is important. The reason is a thing called “stigmas”.
From a privacy organization called Privacilla.org
Medical privacy is vitally important. Maintaining the privacy of medical information literally saves lives because, without the assurance of privacy, people may avoid life-enhancing and life-saving treatments.
Rightly or wrongly, many illnesses and treatments have some stigma attached to them. For this reason, people may avoid treatment if they are not confident that information about them will remain private.
In my case, because I feared misinterpretation of the cause of my malody, if I did not assume privacy by going to a health clinic to see an unknown doctor, I may not have sought treatment at all . I may have delayed diagnosis until treatment could not be avoided, at which point it may be too late. If a person similarly knows their health information would be made public, they similarly might not seek a diagnosis or treatment. Without treatment, the condition could lead to severe illness or death, and it might be a contagious disease.
In an article called “Why we care about Privacy”
Michael McFarland, S.J gives an example:
Good information is needed for good decisions. It might seem like the more information the better. But sometimes that information is misused, or even used for malicious purposes. For example, there is a great deal of misunderstanding in our society about mental illness and those who suffer from it. 1 If it becomes known that a person has a history of mental illness, that person could be harassed and shunned by neighbors. The insensitive remarks and behavior of others can cause the person serious distress and embarrassment. Because of prejudice and discrimination, a mentally ill person who is quite capable of living a normal, productive life can be denied housing, employment and other basic needs.
Similarly someone with an arrest record, even where there is no conviction and the person is in fact innocent, can suffer severe harassment and discrimination. A number of studies have shown that employers are far less likely to hire someone with an arrest record, even when the charges have been dropped or the person has been acquitted.2
For these reasons, I am happy to see BlackBerry, with security in it’s DNA, involved in healthcare services, and hope and pray that they become even more involved.
To see what BlackBerry has to offer, go HERE.