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Just How “Private” are Your Private Medical Records?

Let’s say you’ve been involved in an automobile accident here in the Bay Area and suffered an injury during the process. You’ll likely have a million things going through your mind after the accident. You’re probably worried about paying the mounting medical bills or uncertain about when you may be well enough to return to work. While the privacy of your medical records may not be something that immediately crosses your mind, it’s looking more and more like it should be.

If you suffer an injury during an accident and you are later involved in a lawsuit, your medical records will become one of the focal points of your legal case. That means your medical records, primarily the ones that relate to your injury, can and will be examined by the defense. However, there are federal laws in place that are supposed to keep anyone from going through your medical records without authorized access.

Unfortunately, recent reports have begun to show that things like personal injury accidents, a diagnosis of diabetes or even the fact that you are a former smoker creates a lucrative market for medical records to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. What that means is all of your private health information is really not that private or protected in the end. Scary thought, huh?

Why Medical Records are Valuable

While the Internet is definitely one of the most important inventions for mankind, it’s also become extremely problematic in certain areas. That’s certainly true in the case of medical records. With just a few quick clicks of the mouse, medical records can easily be purchased and sold online. In fact, the cost of healthcare data breaches in the United States recently climbed to a new high of $6.87 billion.

If you’re wondering why in the world anyone would want to illegally buy and sell your medical records, the answers may shock you. Let’s say that you were in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during the process. Your doctor prescribes a daily dose of Neurontin, an anticonvulsant medication to prevent any additional brain damage. All of this information is contained in your personal and private medical records. Now that you need this particular type of medication, that information becomes extremely valuable to a company who might like to sell you an alternate form of their own anticonvulsant drug. In essence, your medical records are like a gold mine to companies looking to sell medications that treat your particular illness, condition or disorder. Unfortunately, that’s not all.

You’re finally healed up from your injury and looking to find a new job. It’s taken you months to land this awesome interview and the potential employer seems impressed with your resume. Then they get an unauthorized copy of your medical records and see that you haven’t been able to work as a result of your personal injury. Employers could become concerned that your medical condition would cause you to miss too many days of work. All of this information can literally be used against you without the potential employer giving you a chance to explain your situation or current medical condition…which should have no bearing on your job application to begin with.

Then, or course, there are the insurance companies. They could also use your personal medical records to make certain risk management decisions or, what’s worse, they could use the information against you when evaluating a personal injury claim. For instance, if you are in an automobile accident and you break your hip, you’ll obviously need medical treatment. Naturally, you ask for your claim to be submitted to your insurance provider for payment. But what if your insurance company has somehow managed to find your medical records and they notice that six years ago, you were treated for mild arthritis in the same hip? Even though you’ve had no problems with your hip in the last several years, it might be difficult to get your own insurance company to cover some of the treatments you’ll need under the personal injury claim.

What Can You Do?

So, what can you do to protect your information? You can ask that details of certain conditions be omitted from your medical chart. To be extra safe, you could go to a doctor who is outside your managed-care plan, since HMOs often demand access to participating physicians’ files. Even when your insurer is paying, you can ask to edit the authorization clause of your claim form. This would limit the information that is released, providing only data that is necessary to process your claim.

More Information

If you’ve been injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, it’s important to contact an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney. The law firm of Nelson C. Barry is devoted to protecting the legal rights of accident victims throughout Bay Area. Our goal is to get you back on your feet so you can comfortably move on with life.

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