Your Medical Records - Are They Really Private

The question in the title seems to beg a yes answer. However, truth is, there are two answers with the real one a shocker. At least it was to me.

The "begged" answer is of course yes. It would be yes if you never let anyone have information about your health and medical condition(s). But, in the real world, this is impossible.

The real answer, unfortunately, is NO. And to add insult to injury, it is real in more ways than one as you are about to learn.

As I dug into the research material for this article, my eyes popped out and my jaw dropped open. The number of eyes that could potentially see your complete medical history (read complete record) is staggering.

The line starts at the government and runs the gamut to bill collectors. Yes, you read that right, bill collectors.

Here, with a brief explanation of each, is a list of "eyes" that could see your medical records. I'd bet many of them already have.

1. The most obvious is your doctor, doctor's nurse and office staff. Most people's medical records are on kept at the doctor's office.

2. Hospital - If you have ever been hospitalized, you have a set of records at the hospital.

3. Insurance Companies - If you have ever applied for health, life or disability insurance, those companies have access to your records no matter where kept.

4. The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) - Most people have never heard of this non-profit membership organization. However, it is the largest repository of health records in the free world. Located in Essex, MA, its membership is about 750 U.S. and Canadian Insurance Companies. MIB does not have the same copies as your doctor. Rather they codify you according to certain health conditions. You can get a free copy of your record by visiting their website: In the alternative you can call, 1-866-692-6901 or for the hearing impaired, 1-866-346-3642. By the way, MIB is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This is important to know.

5. Government agencies such as Social Security, Veteran's Administration, MediCal, Workers Compensation, Medicare, etc.

6. Medical Collection Agencies - Pay attention because these agencies may have in-depth medical information in their data bases. If this one doesn't set your hair on fire, you don't have a pulse.

7. Your employer may have asked you to authorize them accessing your medical records. The potential employer has the right to ask for medical information as part of an employment background check. The employer faces certain restrictions but not many if you authorize the access.

8. Believe it or not, your medical records may be subpoenaed for a court case if you are involved in litigation. Those relevant parts of your record may be copied and introduced in court. Unless sealed, court documents are public records. This is one way unscrupulous people discover social security numbers.

9. Health research - Sometimes your medical record is used for health research and when it is, it may be disclosed to health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control. Most of the time your name is not part of the record but, nonetheless, it is YOUR record.

10. Licensure and accreditation of hospitals or physicians by certain boards or agencies. Again, your identity may or may not be part of the records evaluated. But, one more time, it is YOUR record.

11. Direct marketers may receive your health information if you participate in informal health screenings like cholesterol tests, blood pressure, and other type of "free" medical screenings you may have seen conducted in your local mall.

12. Health related web sites, Usenet news groups and chat rooms may contain your medical information. Granted, you have to share it but once put on the Internet, it has a magical way of propagating throughout the universe.

13. Survey companies not only use the Internet but mail and the phone to conduct medical question surveys. Many of them are very detailed. If you share your information, it is out there for whomever to use.

14. Tenant screening services screen prospective tenants for property managers. Their checks are extremely extensive. Although health records are not on the list, there is no specific law prohibiting a property manager from asking for this information in addition to everything else.

Note: I have set up a special page dealing with health and credit resources at: As I locate to-the-point resources and websites, I will put them on this page.

You do have sort of a guardian angel to help you if you are having problems in regard to your health records. I say sort of because if you become involved in litigation over your medical records, this source cannot represent you in court.

Each state has an Insurance Commissioner. He's your "big brother" in a good sense. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a website, that talks about the privacy laws in your state. Visit their site.

Unfortunately, this arena is still like the Wild West in terms of legislation and privacy protection and the fact it is getting better is of little comfort to anyone whose privacy has been violated.

If you don't like the medical scenario as it exists, you just might wish to chat with your government representative, state and federal, and tell him/her to take a close look at reform in this area.

And, because you have read this article, you are better armed than 95% of the American population. You now can begin taking steps to protect your medical privacy.

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