How Private Is Your Health Data?

11 months ago 30

Many of the health monitoring activities we used to do in our doctor's office have moved into the digital world. Smart watches and apps track our sleep, workouts, diet, and stress levels. We use online portals to check test results, refill prescriptions, and make doctor’s appointments.

Having so much personal health information floating around in cyberspace raises important privacy issues. Just who has access to our digital health data, and what could they do with it?

Although nearly two-thirds of Americans say they like being able to manage their health on their devices, most are concerned about the security of their personal data.

Though there's good reason to worry, there are also ways to protect your digital health data.

HIPAA and the Privacy of Your Health Data

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law signed in 1996 to protect the security of personal health information. HIPAA prevents doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies from releasing your private health data without your permission.

Most health plans and health care providers that are governed by HIPAA have safeguards in place "to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of individuals' information," says Maria Garcia, JD, partner and co-chair of the Healthcare Practice at Kozyak, Tropin, & Throckmorton, a law firm in Coral Gables, FL.

The trouble with HIPAA is that it was written years before health apps and other digital health information-sharing tools became commonplace. HIPAA protects the digital information that's stored in your electronic health record (EHR), including your medical history, diagnoses, medications, and test results. Your EHR is stored in a digital database accessible to you and your doctors and hospitals, but it is ultimately under your control. HIPAA doesn't cover the health information you share over mobile apps or social media websites.

"HIPAA is grossly outdated," says Brendan Parent, JD, director of Transplant Ethics and ...

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