Is Your Digital Forms Vendor Delivering Ads to Your Patients?

Author: Ravi Kalidindi
A patient at the doctor’s office accepts terms and conditions on a tablet without reading the extensive fine print.

There’s a reason patient privacy rules protect a person’s health data: It’s all highly personal.

When a patient shares their demographic, contact, health, and other information with you, they believe they’re entrusting it to you. Once that occurs, you become a steward of that data, and it matters how you protect and use it.

So, it may be disconcerting to realize that your online forms vendor is also collecting the information from your patients’ forms — and using it for advertisements.

How Patients Experience Forms Vendor Advertising

Here’s how this can happen: A patient comes into a practice and uses a tablet to fill out their intake forms. The forms solution (like the case profiled here) opens a consent form — with the details in fine print — for the patient to sign. But, as with most consent forms and disclosures online, no one reads it too closely.

The patient signs so they can get on with completing their forms, not realizing they’ve granted the forms vendor permission to collect and use their data.

The patient continues on their way through the system, thinking they need to do more to complete their intake forms and clicking “submit.” But then another page pops up, describing a particular medication. The patient dutifully reads the page, thinking it’s part of their digital forms packet, then clicks “next.” Up comes another page about yet another drug.

The cycle repeats several times until the patient finally realizes these additional pop-ups aren’t required reading, but advertisements. The result: The patient feels deceived by the waste of their time and effort and uneasy about who has access to their health data.

The patient communicates their concern to the practice. The practice, until now unaware of the pop-ups in their content, suddenly realizes their patients receive this advertising regularly. However, the practice has no easy way to opt out of the advertising, which has already begun to damage the patient experience and patient trust.

Why This Is Bad for Patients and Practices

Such tactics aren’t in the best interests of either the practice or the patients they serve.

Sure, we all experience this kind of advertising in other spaces. When we purchase concert tickets through an online retailer, for instance, we often see tailored ads during the checkout process. We may not love it, but it doesn’t alarm us.

But we’re talking about far more than concert tickets here. An individual’s personal health information is intensely private, and any hint of interference with or unexpected use of that data can be alarming.

The Washington Post article cited above notes that the software vendor they interviewed doesn’t sell patient data to third parties — an important distinction to make. But the fact remains that they themselves do mine and use patient data, often without clear patient or provider awareness.

Regardless of the ethics involved, patients who realize a third party (the vendor) has access to their data are left feeling uncomfortable. The information on those forms is meant for you, their provider, not for anyone else. Unfortunately, though you may not even be aware of what’s occurring, patients equate that breach of trust with your facility, not with the forms vendor you use.

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How to Protect Your Patients and Your Practice

Forms solutions vendors apply their advertising at this juncture because they have a captive audience. Patients must fill out their forms, so while vendors have their undivided attention, they capitalize on it to advertise for their partners.

And that’s the problem. These are your patients. You are the stewards of their information and the providers of their medical care.

Third-party vendors have no business deciding which healthcare products to advertise to your patients, especially when their ads may appear to have your stamp of approval — since they’re alongside your forms in your office.

Advertising isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issue is the source of that advertising and who has access to your patients’ data.

Patients establish a relationship with you, their healthcare provider, to whom they grant informed access to their personal and health information. This, along with your expertise and training as a medical professional, means you are the right one to decide which medications, procedures, and devices to share with your patients.

For this reason, Simple Interact offers an alternative approach that allows providers to maintain patient privacy and advertise only what they approve.

When using Simple Interact, healthcare facilities can choose to employ dynamic, smart display technology in their patient forms. As patients fill out their forms, responsive menus then offer practice-approved options for their care.

For example, a facility’s intake forms may inform patients of potentially useful ancillary services and allow them to explicitly indicate interest in learning more. No third party sees their information, providers maintain control of offerings, and the benefit goes to both the patient and the practice (not pharmaceutical companies or vendors).

Simple Interact maintains the integrity of healthcare facilities as advocates for patient needs, not as marketing engines for third-party advertisers.

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Protecting Patient Data Is Our Priority

At Simple Interact, we feel strongly about patient privacy, data integrity, and the importance of the provider-patient relationship. Patients who don’t trust their medical facility to carefully steward their data are in danger of becoming reluctant to share that data. A violation of trust at any level in a healthcare organization has a negative impact on the patient relationship and the success of the practice.

Simple Interact is committed to protecting patient privacy and to letting practices control what appears during the form-filling process. Patient trust is crucial to the provider-patient relationship; as a third-party vendor, it’s our obligation to protect it.

Let us show you how a smart, dynamic display can create a useful — and responsible — avenue for providers to educate and inform their patients without compromising on privacy. Request a demo.

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