Even just a few years ago, it was not uncommon to walk into your doctor’s office and see cabinets full of manilla folders behind the receptionist’s desk that contained the personal medical information of hundreds of patients. Since then, technology has continued to make it easier and cheaper to store data on local servers and the cloud. In reality, it was only a matter of time before your local health-care provider jumped on the digital bandwagon and moved all of that data online. The good news is that the new level of accessibility can greatly increase the efficiency and accuracy of patient treatment. The ability for one doctor to view your entire medical history with just a few clicks means the likelihood for misdiagnosis and drug interactions is greatly reduced.
But there’s a flipside to living in the information age. This increased level of access for doctors, patients and insurance providers also comes with the risk that your personal medical information will end up in the wrong hands. Last July, UCLA’s Health System was breached, and it’s believed that the perpetrators may have gained access to the sensitive data of as many as 4.5 million patients. Moreover, a report by the Los Angeles Times suggested that a lack of encryption may have been responsible for the leak of names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and insurance identification numbers. As individuals we have very little control over how providers and governing health care bodies protect our data, but there are a few steps that we can take to lower the probability that this data ends up in the wrong hands. Here are five quick tips for protecting your personal medical data.
Learn from UCLA’s Mistake
Data encryption should be the first priority of any organization that is responsible for the private information of millions of customers. You have the same responsibility for protecting your own private data. Luckily, there are tools that can help. For example, a Lifelock Wallet is the perfect way to put a layer of protection between the personal data stored on your smartphone and a pair of prying eyes. The service offers encrypted cloud storage for all of your important identification and medical cards.
Be Wary of Free Medical Services
Many services will promise you “free” benefits or medical services in exchange for your personal data and an upfront fee. You should always take these claims with a grain of salt. Although a work-related disability or a status as a retiree or veteran may make you eligible for free benefits, you should always check with your health-care provider before providing any medical information to an organization or company. Be especially weary of anyone who approaches you with an offer, either on the phone or by email. It’s likely that your doctor or benefits provider will point you in the direction of legitimate, reputable services.
Check in with Insurance & Benefit Providers
If you haven’t used your benefits for a while or you’ve stopped receiving statements about recent activity, you should contact your benefits provider or insurance company to make sure everything is on the up and up. Once they’ve gained access to your information, identity thieves have the ability to change your address and receive certain benefits on your behalf. You might not even notice until you show up at the doctor’s office and realize that your information has been changed. The bottom line: Check in often. Your provider will appreciate it as much as you will.