The Black-Market Value of Personal Health Information

To adopt to our increasingly just-in-time lives the Canadian health care system is on an upward trajectory towards digitization. This necessary modernization of health care means better patient outcomes as well as improved insight into future health care decisions.

Despite the personal and system-wide benefits of a more digital health care system, what cannot be ignored is that your health information has value to you, but also to people wishing to take advantage or use the information inappropriately.

The fact remains that Canadians may also be unwittingly sharing their health information. Whether it’s apps that are used, mailing lists that are joined, or online surveys, what’s really being tracked is personal health information that tells unscrupulous users information you may not want them to know. If the fine print in the privacy agreement isn’t read and understood, it’s hard to know where your information goes and how it’s used.

“Every time you give a little bit away you’re putting yourself at risk.”

Thieves collect personal data such as home address or contact information, but also details of physical or mental conditions and prescribed medications. Individuals can be threatened with public exposure of their data, especially those in high-profile positions, and future health benefit claims or even border crossings could be affected.

Compromised personal health data has a much greater and lasting impact. When a credit card is stolen, card numbers are changed and charges in question are typically reimbursed. Conversely, your health record stays with you for life, leaving you more vulnerable to future problems.

Just like Canadians have not shied away from online banking or commerce, the answer isn’t to fear a digital health system either. The benefits to patients, professionals and the overall system are far too great, but we also can’t bury our head in the sand when it comes to privacy or the selling of personal healthcare data. Instead we must look at ways to protect Canadians while increasing the digital health options available to them. One such tool is Infoway’s PrescribeIT, a paperless e-prescription service that enables prescribers to securely transmit a prescription to a patient’s pharmacy of choice. As a not for profit service funded by the federal government, it ensures all personal health information is secure, confidential and only used for its intended purpose.

Finally, the protection of personal data, and especially health data, must be a priority for everyone. Data drives decisions, it allows us to react to new trends in care and system needs, but we can’t let data drive profit at the expense of the patient. Physicians, pharmacists and all health care professionals must continue to take an active role in protecting their patients’ data, while at the same time patients must ask questions about how their information is kept safe, secure and guarded against commercial misuse. During Fraud Prevention Month we have an opportunity to look at where the data in our health system is now and map out a plan that keeps the system healthy and safe for all.

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