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What can you do to protect your health information?

The activities of our daily lives are moving online, and with them our personal information. There are the photos and videos we share willingly on social media, and other details like bank accounts and financial information we use with greater caution. But with regular news of giant data breaches and stories of identity theft, data security is a big concern for consumers, especially with our most sensitive information: our health records.

So what can we do to keep our health data secure? Kathy Jobes, chief information security officer of OhioHealth, offers these tips.

Review your patient care documentation.

If you’re like a lot of people, when you get your Explanation of Benefits in the mail after a doctor’s visit (commonly referred to as an EOB), you see the words “THIS IS NOT A BILL,” skim down to see the amount you’ll be responsible for when the bill actually arrives, and toss it aside.

Jobes recommends we take a closer look. “An EOB is a highly valuable tool for identifying proactively if there is an error in your medical information. Review it like you would a credit card statement for incorrect charges. Make sure the EOB aligns with your health conditions, and that the treatments listed are ones you actually received.” If the procedures are not accurate, Jobes says, it could mean another person is using your identity, or a medical provider might be engaging in fraud. “If something looks wrong, contact your insurance provider immediately and report it.”

Use secure communication methods to discuss your health.

Healthcare providers must follow guidelines set in HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to protect the accessibility and privacy of patient medical records. These guidelines have led to the creation of electronic medical record applications that allow patients to communicate securely and privately with their care teams.

“The platform we use at OhioHealth is called MyChart. It’s an excellent tool for reviewing your patient data and contacting your doctors if you find inconsistencies, errors or sudden changes in your medical history,” says Jobes. “It also keeps your conversations with doctors confidential and password-protected. I think our patients find it empowering to have immediate access to their medical information and to have the ability to ask questions they might feel uncomfortable asking in other situations.”

Watch what health information you share online.

Sharing news about our health is a part of life. We learn of friends’ pregnancies on social media, tell our own health stories to raise awareness and money for breast cancer, diabetes or multiple sclerosis research, and send well-wishes when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. But Jobes encourages us to be mindful of what we put online. “If you’re sharing health information publicly, be aware of how specific you are being in the details you’re sharing.” Jobes says people with bad intentions can collect these details and build a persona in order to impersonate you. “And if you have an extended stay in the hospital,” she adds, “it’s a good idea to follow the same recommendations for people going on vacation: Be cautious telling others that you’ll be away from home for a long period of time.”

Stay vigilant.

Jobes says be protective of your medical data and apply the same mindset you do with other valuable personal information like passwords, credit cards and Social Security numbers. “Your health information is important. Make sure it’s correct, know who’s asking for it and how they intend to use it.”

If you think you are the victim of medical identity theft, contact your insurance provider immediately or the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov.

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