Release My Healthcare Searches? "I Agree."

I love my smart phone. I can research drug interactions, medical literature, clinical trials, then pay a few bills and make a dinner reservation. This is nothing new, but what is new - at least to me - is how easy it is for advertisers to send me information simply based on my location. When I click “I agree” to the location services on my phone, the resulting GPS transmission allows advertisers to promote amenities that are close to where I may be standing.

At first, I felt this service, called Geofencing, wasn’t a big deal and something I took for granted. If I wanted to find the best restaurant in a new area - boom! I received several recommendations nearby, and maybe a coupon or two. If I needed a ride to get there – bam! The proximity of several transportation options would pop up. If I needed to know the weather – booya! I’m told it may rain in 5 minutes with a store down the street selling umbrellas. But what if I’m looking for the closest proctologist? Does this mean I’ll receive a coupon for hemorrhoid cream? Possibly. What about a gastroenterologist? Will I be shown the location to the closest store selling organic foods? Perhaps. But most importantly, if I’m looking for healthcare services, is this an invasion of my personal health information? Absolutely.

Most people would agree consumers should be in control of their location privacy. And yet, a 2013 Pew Research Center study showed half of respondents felt there was a lack of location privacy laws.

To be fair, there are several bills regarding Geolocation privacy in the works. And Geofencing could be useful for improving healthcare data security. However, the current law protecting our health information (HIPAA) doesn’t apply to Geofencing. Which means, accepting locations services while searching for a medical condition - such as a clinic for HIV, pregnancy, or even hemorrhoids - leaves us vulnerable to unscrupulous advertisers and the possibility of receiving misleading or unreliable healthcare information.

One way to minimize this risk is to speak with your general practitioner or healthcare provider directly. They can assist with your condition and concerns, while also providing a recommendation to a specialist, if necessary.

Geofencing can be very helpful in some instances, such as for locating the closest pharmacy, or providing an alert for an incoming storm.  But, by clicking “I agree” and accepting location services, we reveal both our search history and our current location to the virtual universe.  

Find more tips and suggestions about reliable healthcare information on the Health Information page of Pharmatica.

Thanks for reading.

Mr. Glen, R.Ph.