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What you can do to protect your family’s health information
There has been a strong upward trend in healthcare data breaches over the last decade. 2015 goes in history as the worst year for the United States wherein 113.27 million records of Americans were exposed or stolen. And even up to now, hackers access millions of medical records every year.
 
At this rate, you must do all that’s within your means to protect your family’s health information. Before getting into the measures you can take to prevent your family’s health information, it’s worthwhile to understand what criminals can do with your medical data.
 
Consequences Of Medical Data Breaches
Data breaches are mainly perpetrated by cybercriminals who hack into online databases of healthcare institutions and steal sensitive information. But in other cases, unscrupulous healthcare providers may willfully leak medical data to unauthorized persons. Some of the protected health information (PHI) that criminals are usually going after include:
  • First, middle, and last names
  • Date of birth
  • Email address
  • Home address
  • Phone numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Fax numbers
  • Close-up photo
  • Biometric data, such as fingerprints
  • IP address
  • Web URL
  • Vehicle plate number
  • Medical record serial numbers
Once they get the information they need, criminals can do any of the following:
  • Long-Term Identity Theft: Any stranger can pretend to be you by using your name, social security number, and all other personal details. They can undergo expensive medical procedures for several months or years in your name, making your credit card debt unbearably huge.
  • Extortion: If a criminal knows about your health condition, say a terminal illness or sexually transmitted disease, they can coerce you to do whatever they want, including paying them an amount of money. They’ll threaten to leak your personal information to the public or other people of interest if you won’t cooperate with them.
  • Fraud: Criminals can use your health information to commit crimes, like tax fraud, wherein they evade paying taxes to the government but channel the funds to themselves. This may be done in the form of a home equity loan fraud, wherein they trick lenders into granting them huge loans in your name. As a consequence, your credit score will suffer.
How To Protect Your Family’s Health Information
 
To avoid becoming victims of cybercriminals and fraud, here are three things you can do:
 
1. Only Deal With HIPAA-Certified Healthcare Providers
HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It’s an initiative of the U.S. government, under the Department of Health Human Services, to prevent medical data breaches. They do this by compelling all healthcare institutions to follow strict security rules when handling PHI, failure to do so will result in hefty fines, lengthy prison terms, revocation of operating licenses, and entry into a public 'wall of shame.'
 
Aside from healthcare institutions, HIPAA laws also apply to other covered entities, such as doctors, pharmacies, nurses, health insurers, government health plans, and psychologists. Whenever visiting these entities, inquire to ascertain whether or not they’re HIPAA-compliant. That will limit the chances of your family’s health information falling into criminals’ hands.
 
2. Minimize The Information You’re Putting Out
When visiting your family physician, it’s critical to know what kind of information is absolutely necessary for you to provide. For instance, the law doesn’t require you to provide your Social Security number to a physician. So, if you find the doctor asking for unnecessary information, stand on your ground and seek to know why they want information that won’t help the treatment process in any way.
 
Likewise, you’d want to be as cautious as you can on social media. You don’t have to parade your vehicle number plate for all to see. And the same applies to the rest of the PHI listed previously.
 
If you store or transmit any of this information online, make a point of having strong passwords to all platforms and apps you use. Additionally, have effective antivirus software on your computer and smartphone, and know how to avoid phishing scams.
 
3. Leave Friends Behind When Visiting Your Doctor
When a friend accompanies you to the hospital and enters the doctor’s office with you, they can easily eavesdrop on your conversation with the physician. While this may seem harmless at first, you never know what your friend may, later on, do with the information they get. 
 
So, it would help if you avoid going for health checkups with friends. But if they must accompany you, perhaps on occasions where your state of health doesn’t allow you to travel alone, see to it that they wait for you in the reception area as you converse privately with your doctor.
 
There are several measures you can take to protect your family’s health information. Chief among them is making sure you’re dealing with HIPAA-compliant healthcare providers. Furthermore, limit the information you provide to healthcare providers, friends, and any other healthcare staff, as you may not be sure what they’ll do with the bit of medical data they get.

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