Privacy Advocates Raise Concerns Over Hospitals’ Use of Patient Data
Hospitals and other health care organizations commonly use patient information for fundraising efforts without patients' explicit permission, but the practice is coming under mounting criticism after a privacy lapse at the firm UC-San Francisco Medical Center hired to identify potential donors, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Federal law permits hospitals to use patients' names, addresses and dates of medical care to be used for fundraising purposes without patients' consent. Patients can later ask to be removed from hospitals' outreach efforts.
In the UCSF case, the medical center provided a vendor with access to additional information, including the medical departments where they were treated. More than 6,300 UCSF patients' names and other information were posted on the Internet as a result of the lapse.
Mark Laret, CEO of UCSF Medical Center, said the facility is re-evaluating its fundraising practices, particularly how UCSF presents information to patients about how their personal data will be used.
San Francisco attorney Khaldoun Baghdadi said California's medical privacy act is "designed to prevent patients from being used as a marketing database," adding, "If that medical information was disclosed negligently, each patient can be awarded $1,000 per violation."
Critics said that contacting current or former patients for donations and allowing vendors to search through patient information in databases are part of a decline in patient privacy.
Experts said patient privacy awareness has heightened in recent years because of the increase in electronic information sharing, the Chronicle reports (Fernandez, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/27).
The Chronicle also surveyed a dozen Bay Area hospitals on their fundraising practices and found that four health facilities do not directly solicit patients for fundraising purposes (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.