Clark Howard

Are Medical Patient Portals Safe?

If you’re like me, you’ve spent countless hours wondering why simple things such as accessing your own medical records and test results can seem needlessly complicated. Especially in a digital era.

Thankfully, many medical providers and facilities finally are modernizing. Patient portals still involve red tape up front. But then you can access test results and other medical information.

Before breezing through the red tape, though, is it safe?

Are Patient Portals Safe for Your Medical Data?

Can I trust my medical provider, the medical institute and the people who run security and technology for patient portal websites with my sensitive medical data?

That’s what a Clark Howard listener recently asked.

Asked Jennifer in New Jersey: "Many doctors are moving to patient portals where you can review test results. The patient has to fill out a bunch of forms giving consent.

"I started filling one out recently that had me concerned. I rarely read these forms but for some reason I decided to read this one word for word. I was dumbfounded, since (to me) it sounds like the IT company is relieving themselves of liability if my information gets compromised.

"Am I signing my rights away if I were to agree to these terms: 'eClinicalWorks is not liable for improper disclosure of confidential information. eClinicalWorks is not responsible for breaches of confidentiality caused by you or an independent third party.'"

Jennifer quoted a passage from a specific legal consent form. But it’s virtually boilerplate language across the industry, Clark says.

Clark has been public about his prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with almost 16 years ago. He also had significant heart surgery at the end of 2023, which he’s discussed extensively. He isn’t concerned about his medical data getting leaked privately or publicly. Also, since he’s in disease management, convenience and ease of access to test results is a valuable tradeoff.

However, he acknowledges many people are private and secretive about their medical history.

“A lot of people have stuff in their medical files that are very sensitive things,” Clark says. “Especially if your medical privacy is really, really important to you, know that as soon as data is in a database, there’s always the risk it will be compromised.

“In your case, Jennifer, you’re really worried about what could happen with this data. If it would freak you out, don’t sign up. For me, it was worth the risk.”

Final Thoughts

Medical patient portals are becoming more prevalent. They allow easier, more convenient access to things such as test results. However, they typically require you to sign consent forms absolving them of liability should your medical data leak.

As a result, think long and hard before you agree to use a patient portal, Clark says. Especially if you don’t want your medical data leaked in a data breach.

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