Most people expect their medical data to remain in just a few hands — their doctor, their pharmacist, their family, etc. — but prescription medication data can be shared with a number of companies you may not expect.
Consumer Reports reminded readers last week that prescription drug data can be shared not only with your pharmacist, but with the pharmacy chain, data miners and insurance companies. These companies use the data to send you ads for medical supplies you may need, like a new blood pressure monitor if you have hypertension, to understand how healthy you are for actuarial insurance reasons and even to do medical research. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, places certain restrictions on how the data can be used and is intended to protect consumers’ privacy. Your prescription information is often separated from your name and other personal information so that the data can be used, but you won’t be identifiable.
You also have some rights when it comes to knowing the medical information that’s being shared about you. You may be able to opt out of marketing programs when signing up at a pharmacy chain or when filling out new patient paperwork at your doctor’s office. You also can check your medical data reports to make sure they’re accurate. They can give you a good sense of what information is being shared about you:
Why Does My Medical Data Matter?
Checking your medical data reports might seem like overkill — after all, you have your own medical records, you know your own medical history, why do you need to see these reports?
First off, there’s a data protection issue. Some of the major pharmacy chains in the United States have undergone data breaches in recent years, andprotecting your medical data can be a life-and-death matter, quite literally. Incorrect medical data can lead a hospital employee to administer the wrong type blood in an emergency situation, for example.
Second, if your file contains information that belongs to another person, perhaps giving you a chronic (and expensive) illness you don’t actually have, you could also face higher insurance costs when you shop for life insurance. Medical data reports are just like credit reports — mistakes happen and you can fix them if you stay vigilant. (You can check your credit reports for free once a year to make sure they’re accurate and check your credit scores for free on Credit.com monthly to spot any changes that may signal an error.)
This article originally appeared on Credit.com and was written by Kali Geldis.