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Feds warn hospitals not to divulge patients' telehealth information

Hospitals are being warned to be careful when using services that could divulge sensitive health information to companies like Meta and Google.
Feds warn hospitals not to divulge patients' telehealth information
Posted at 6:44 AM, Jul 21, 2023

Federal officials sent a letter to hospitals and telehealth providers over concerns about the privacy and security of online telehealth services. 

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services said that online tracking integrated into websites could illegally disclose the public's personal health data to others. 

The agencies sent nearly 130 health care providers a letter warning of the risks. They specifically warned about using services such as Meta/Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics. Federal officials claim these services can gather identifiable personal information about users. 

“When consumers visit a hospital’s website or seek telehealth services, they should not have to worry that their most private and sensitive health information may be disclosed to advertisers and other unnamed, hidden third parties,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is again serving notice that companies need to exercise extreme caution when using online tracking technologies and that we will continue doing everything in our powers to protect consumers’ health information from potential misuse and exploitation.”

SEE MORE: Meta faces daily $100,000 fine over practices concerning privacy

The government's letter outlined some of its concerns about possible disclosures of personal information.

"Impermissible disclosures of an individual’s personal health information to third parties may result in a wide range of harms to an individual or others," the letter read. "Such disclosures can reveal sensitive information, including health conditions, diagnoses, medications, medical treatments, frequency of visits to health care professionals, where an individual seeks medical treatment, and more. In addition, impermissible disclosures of personal health information may result in identity theft, financial loss, discrimination, stigma, mental anguish, or other serious negative consequences to the reputation, health, or physical safety of the individual or to others."

Earlier this month, several Democratic lawmakers said that major tax preparers, like H&R Block and TurboTax, were "reckless" in their usage of services such as Meta Pixel and Google Analytics.

The report indicated Google was able to acquire taxpayers' filing status, adjusted gross income, approximate refund amount, and names of dependents through TaxAct. Google could match that information with names, addresses, and phone numbers.

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