How much of your information does your doctor need?


Experts say the patient has rights and alternate methods to give the doctor/hospital what they want

“I need to get a photo ID, a copy of your medical insurance card, and this kajillion page form.”

If you’ve been to a new doctor or health service office, you know what we’re talking about. Your name, address, and phone number make sense, sure, but does a doctor really need to know if you’re married or single, what your Social Security number is, how much money you make, or if you’ve ever smoked pot?

It’s fatiguing for the patient – and it’s even a pain for physicians.

“My perspective on intake forms was underscored this year when I became a patient of a clinic at a top-10 ranked hospital by US News & World Report,” wrote physician Dr. Koorosh Joshua Elihu.

“Prior to my visit, the clinic emailed me a poorly scanned eleven-page patient questionnaire with instructions to print and complete the form prior to my visit. Like many, I lacked immediate access to a printer.

Elihu said that because he was a returning patient of this health system, most of the information was already available in the company’s electronic health record (EHR).

“Did they really need to ask me about my city of birth again? What is already known in the EHR should populate onto our forms so that patients are only asked about information that needs updating.”

What is – and what isn’t – necessary

Why does a doctor/hospital need this stuff? Does someone have to enter every piece of information a “patient demographic information form” requests? 

ConsumerAffairs asked two healthcare professionals that question and what we found out is somewhat of a mixed bag. 

Lancer Seaman, chief information security officer at DeliverHealth, told ConsumerAffairs that this is the bottom line from his perch: “While physicians are encouraged to collect demographic information and in certain instances may be required to collect it, patients are under no obligation to provide the data. Leaving fields blank on forms will generally elicit a request from a nurse or practitioner for the information but patients may decline to provide the information. Patients should recognize that providing the information may help the provider in providing a better level of care, but should not feel obligated to provide the data.”


Seaman says there are instances where some fill-in-blanks are essential and that physicians and hospitals collect demographic information for a variety of reasons. 

“Factors such as race, age and sex can help identify if a patient is predisposed to certain illnesses. This information allows physicians to be more proactive in requesting tests and enhances their ability to ensure the health and wellbeing of patients,” he said.

“By collecting demographic information trends within these categories can be identified and treatment plans changed to protect those higher risk individuals.”

Seaman also said that when it comes to religion, knowing that information impacts care planning. As examples, he pointed to religions that might require prayer at specific times of day. Or members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not accept blood transfusions.

“Understanding religious beliefs can help providers choose appropriate times for appointments, understand dietary restrictions and understand what types of care would be best for the patient overall,” he said.

And marital status? Seaman said providers will often collect marital status to aid in billing and collections. “A husband or wife may be liable for medical bills if the patient is unable or unwilling to pay,” he said.

Dr. Michael Everest, founder and CEO at edYou, agrees with several of Seaman’s points, but says that patients have something called “informed consent” on their side.

“Patients have the right to know why specific information is being obtained and how it will be used. Before disclosing any information, they might ask questions and request clarification,” he said. 

But, he emphasized, patients can still decline or limit the publication of certain information, such as their Social Security number or religion, without jeopardizing their access to healthcare services. 

Social Security numbers are a particularly thorny issue. In the wrong hands, they can lead to a wrongful death of the identity type.

Healthcare facilities are prone to cyberattacks and breaches, too. HIPPA Journal says that over the past 12 months, more than 81.76 million medical records have been breached across 683 incidents. It’s undetermined how many of those breaches included Social Security numbers, but 1% is 1% too many.

Exercise your rights and use alternatives

Seaman says that patients have the right at any time to request their entire medical record and inquire as to who has had access to the record.

“Physicians are required to provide this information upon request,” he told ConsumerAffairs.

And that’s probably a good place to start. And, again, as Everest said, use your right of “informed consent” to askwhy the doctor/hospital really needs that information and if you can have what isn’t necessary removed from your records.

Everest suggests you should try other methods of identifying yourself, too.

“Patients should inquire about alternate ways of identification that do not require sensitive information such as Social Security numbers,” he said.

“Patients can prove their identity via government issued identification, their health insurance card, a medical record number if applicable, emergency contact information, and even by answering pre-determined verification questions.”

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