Home Medicine Can A Pharmacist See Your Prescription History

Can A Pharmacist See Your Prescription History

by Dan Hughes
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Can A Pharmacist See Your Prescription History

Can A Pharmacist See Your Prescription History

The pharmacist behind the counter is supposed to make sure your prescription will work — but he or she may also know a lot about you. When you walk into any pharmacy with a doctor’s note for medical marijuana, or when you ask if they have refills on certain prescriptions, chances are good the pharmacist knows who gave you those drugs and why. And even though it may seem like the information would be kept confidential, there are plenty of reasons why your pharmacy record could end up at a company’s corporate headquarters.
When companies buy from drugstores, chain pharmacies and independent pharmacies alike, they often use the data they collect to better serve customers. They may combine this info with other customer-related information such as age, gender, income and location, along with purchasing habits and personal preferences. Chain stores, however, tend to share fewer details than independents because of federal rules governing the sale of prescription records. For this reason, many consumers prefer buying from small businesses rather than large chains. The problem is that while these smaller shops don’t share as much information as the big guys do, they may just as easily sell your information to third parties.
For example, CVS Health has agreements with some insurers to provide refill history reports to help patients get cheaper rates on their insurance plans. So if you pick up a generic aspirin at the local Walgreens, the price you see advertised on TV may actually reflect what you’d pay if you had picked up the same brand name version from another store. You’ll never find out until after you’ve already paid. If you’re worried about how this works, read on.
How Data Can Be Shared Between Drugstore Chains and Their Business Partners
If you think all of this sounds bad, you’re right! In fact, several states have passed legislation designed to limit the amount of data collected by pharmacies and restrict its use. This means that pharmacists are generally required to sign strict contracts promising they won’t divulge patient information without permission [sources: Grinberg]. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always stop them from sharing it.
In 2013, for instance, Express Scripts admitted that it sold prescription records to business partners including marketing firms, health care providers and employers looking to target specific groups of people with advertising campaigns. Even worse, Express Scripts didn’t tell its customers about the practice, which was illegal since it violated state laws protecting consumer privacy. Other major retailers were caught doing similar things, too. Target, Walmart, Costco and Kroger Stores all said they did not purchase prescription data directly from pharmacies; instead, they bought it from data brokers, who then marketed prescription records to advertisers.
While these practices sound nefarious, they shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. After all, the pharmacy industry itself collects tons of customer data every day. According to one report, the average American goes to a pharmacy four times per month, spending $21 each visit  That’s a lot of information for someone to willingly hand over. It certainly explains why so many people shop at brick-and-mortar stores instead of online.
But once again, the issue isn’t really the size of the retailer. It’s how the retailer uses the data. Because the U.S. government allows pharmacies to advertise prescription prices on television, for example, many customers assume that lower prices must mean higher quality. Or maybe they assume that because they saw a coupon for free samples at a nearby pharmacy during a recent trip, they should patronize that particular store next time. Neither assumption is true. Since these commercials aren’t regulated, they can sometimes mislead customers.
So how can you avoid being targeted by marketing campaigns? First, keep tabs on where you go to fill your prescriptions. If you notice a sudden uptick in ads for the same products popping up around town, it might be worth asking your pharmacist whether you happened to see a commercial featuring that product. If you feel uncomfortable having done so, consider telling your pharmacist to put a note on your account warning him or her against giving away your information. Also, check out our guide on avoiding identity theft to learn more about keeping yourself safe.
Despite efforts to protect consumer privacy, most Americans continue to trust companies with their sensitive information. According to a study conducted by the Ponemon Institute, 76 percent of respondents believed that their “healthcare provider will respect their confidentiality”.

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