Hospitals, patients clash on privacy rights

Elizabeth Fernandez reports in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Joan Broner, like many people, never reads the fine print at her medical appointments.

As a consequence, the 58-year-old San Francisco resident, who has arthritis, regularly receives solicitation letters at home from several local hospitals. The letters infuriate her.

“It feels like an invasion of privacy,” she said. “If I’m sick and I go to a doctor, I don’t want them telling anybody about it. My disease is not for sale.”

When patients check into hospitals or doctor offices, they presume their information will be kept in strictest confidence, but often, amid the pile of papers, they overlook fine print describing how their personal information can be farmed out for fundraising.

Hospitals and other health care organizations widely use patient information, without patients’ explicit permission, to raise funds. To the dismay of privacy-rights advocates and some in the medical field, fundraising to benefit medical institutions is allowed under federal law.

Patients can opt out – after the fact.

Critics say the practice of soliciting donations from current and former patients – no matter how worthy the beneficiary – symbolizes the erosion of personal privacy in contemporary life.

Full story – San Francisco Chronicle

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