Due to issues such as managed care contracting, and the financial impact of indigent care, healthcare providers find themselves in competition for patients with adequate health insurance, or the ability to pay cash for services provided to try to maintain fiscal solvency. E-health applications serve not only to advertise the services of a facility, but also to help the health care provider identify potential patients for the services they offer. In this paper I will explore the ethical considerations of Consumer Relationship Management (CRM) applications and services, which are increasingly being utilized to help target potential consumers for health care providers.
When inquiring about a health condition on the internet, do internet users give up their expectations for privacy regarding their healthcare information? Although consumers may not expect the information they provide to get into the database of marketing firms, this is often exactly what happens. Consumer Relationship Management (CRM) software firms or service providers are a growing industry. The purpose of CRM software in the healthcare field, is to assist providers in identifying potential customers for a service based on information they have supplied. This information can be provided in a number of ways. In some cases, the consumer has knowingly supplied the information to the actual provider via an inquiry sent from the provider's website. In other cases the provider determines a marketing target based upon mining information in their own database by linking relationships which may help identify a potential need. Yet in another scenario, identification of a potential consumer is based on information they provided at another website, which was then sold to the healthcare provider of a related service by a data mining firm.
While consumers don't object to receiving information they have requested, they often do not welcome the solicitation from a provider regarding a health related service about which they did not request information. They are more uncomfortable if the information appears to be targeted to their specific health care needs which they assumed were private. In the United States, consumers are accustomed to privacy regarding their personal health information. Indeed, HIPAA mandates that personal health information regarding consumers be maintained in strict privacy and shared only with the written consent of the consumer. The violation of these policies is treated seriously, and punishable by the imposition of a potentially hefty fine of up to 25,000.00.
Often, consumers expect the same assurance of privacy when inquiring about a health related service on the internet. However, while most internet sites maintain some standards regarding privacy, many have fine print disclosing that they will provide some information to other parties. This information is often hard to locate, and phrased in a way to make this disclosure of information seem more...