Yesterday I got this friendly, helpful letter from my Trusted Neighbourhood Pharmacists. They just wanted to let me know that there is a group running an RA drug trial in which I might be interested.
Now, I’m very open on here about having RA/Inflammatory Arthritis. But I can state with relative certainty that the staff at my Walgreens Pharmacy aren’t reading my blog. And I’ve filled thousands of prescriptions in my life. Not one of them has ever said “I, Dr. Suchandanother, am giving this patient this medication because she has Blank Illness.”
The only conclusion I can draw is that Walgreens has looked at my medications–all of which are generic and prescribed for multiple ailments–and decided that the odds are high that I have RA. And that I might, therefore, be interested in drug trials.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this development. After all, it’s not the end of the world if the pharmacist knows for which disease she is filling scrips. But at the same time, I feel squicky about this as a demonstration of the use of computers for data-mining and backending into conclusions about things that are personal.
We have HIPAA regulations to protect privacy. That’s why doctors DON’T write diagnoses on prescriptions. And this nifty trick seems like a fine way for a mega-corporation like Walgreens to circumvent the letter of the HIPAA regs and violate the spirit of them.
It may not seem like a big deal now, but in my mind it sets a grim precedent. Imagine a few years down the line when Amazon uses their algorithims on your book-buying history to determine that you are into some sort of fetish, and that information is pooled with your credit card company (the credit card you used to buy the books) and is available on your credit report and keeps you from getting a job as a school teacher because the background check red flags you as a person who likes Japanese Tentacle Porn. Or, better yet, instead of being into Japanese Tentacle Porn the book history reveals that you are most likely a Christian and you are denied the teaching job in the public school system because they won’t hire Christians.
Or whatever. The bottom line is that databases destroy privacy when cross-checked. And sometimes your privacy is all that stands between you and your greatest vulnerability.*
*For the record, this is exactly why I strive to be as open as possible. By keeping things private you create tools that can be used against you. It’s also part of why I strive to live a life that doesn’t require any sort of hiding. If you’ve got nothing to hide, you are much more difficult to destroy. Nevertheless, I don’t like outsiders forcing personal transparancy on the public.