Social networking is infiltrating healthcare with platforms for patients to share intimate details of their diagnoses, medications, physical conditions, locations, and other personal data -- and not necessarily anonymously.
Members of emerging sites, such as PatientsLikeMe, DailyStrength, and HealthyPlace, for example, can post profiles similar to those on Facebook, and many users are posting their photos, hometowns, and personal health information that could ultimately be abused. And like mainstream social networks Facebook and LinkedIn, these online patient communities are attractive targets for identity thieves, spammers, and other bad guys trolling for valuable information, security experts say. They also could be used for targeted attacks, employers, or other people to gather private information about the patient that could be used against him or her.
Ironically, the emergence of these sites comes amid growing concerns over patient privacy and security of their data in the move to electronic medical records. Indeed, medical identity theft is on the rise: A recent Ponemon Institute study found 1.5 million Americans have been a victim of medical identity theft, to the tune of $28.6 billion, or about $20,000 per victim.