How to Keep Your Health Information Private
(Consumer Reports) – Let’s say you have what feels like heartburn. You Google “heartburn symptoms and remedies” and seek advice from friends on Facebook.
Your symptoms worsen after lunch, so you make an appointment for a doctor’s visit using your physician’s patient portal.
After your appointment, your doctor sends a prescription—electronically—to your regular pharmacy and hands you a printout with helpful recommendations.
Problem solved? Yes, but now there may be a new one. Any of these seemingly innocuous transactions could have violated the privacy of your health information.
And such violations are common. A January 2018 survey from the University of Phoenix found that 1 in 5 registered nurses had experienced a breach of patient data at his or her facility.
What can happen if your medical data is shared inappropriately? Your digital searches might be used by companies to sell products to you.
If your health records are stolen, it might even lead to medical identity theft, where your information is used to fraudulently obtain medical or government services, or medical equipment, or to falsify insurance claims. Here, how to keep your health information private.
A 2018 Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S. found that two-thirds had searched online for medical conditions in the previous year and that 45 percent had seen customized advertising that reflected those searches.
A website does this by embedding tiny data files called cookies and hidden images called web beacons to analyze your interests and track your activity when you go to other websites.*
To help control tracking, browse in “private” mode. Doing this on search engines such as Firefox and Safari, and using “Incognito” on Chrome, means that cookies will be deleted once you close browser windows and that searches won’t be recorded in your browser history.
You might also want to use ad-blocking software (such as Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and uBlock Origin), which is designed to prevent such ads from appearing on web pages.
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