In a blatant violation of trust, this pharmacy chain shares your information

Off to a BadStart

You know those telemarketers we all love to hate? The ones that call during dinner, won’t let you hang up, and hound you until you finally give in?

Well you will never guess what they have in their grimy little hands now…your private medical information.

Red flag goes up

Technically, it looks like they’ve managed to stay within the bounds of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). But this is one of the most blatant violations of trust I’ve ever seen.

That’s how my dear friend Phylis described it when she sent me the letter below. (Unlike all the other players in this scenario, I got her permission to share this with you. And I’ve taken a few steps to protect her privacy.)

It seems if you get certain prescriptions filled at Walgreens (Phylis filled one for Lipitor), they give your prescription details to a “Walgreens GoodStart agent.”

At the same time, you get a letter from Walgreens (as Phylis did) to let you know you’ll be getting a call from the agent “to see how things are going.”

And right about here is where the red flag goes up. Ah! Got it! It’s an adherence program. The “agent” will call to make sure you’re actually taking the drug. If you have any concerns or you’re hesitant to start, you’ll be reassured and nudged along.

It’s a sneaky way to increase drug sales. I imagine someone coaches the agent to apply pressure. He’ll basically give you a sales pitch to keep you on track and keep those prescription refills coming. And, more likely, a guilt-and-fear trip about the possible “consequences” of skipping your meds if you aren’t “complying.”

But here’s the twist… That agent isn’t a Walgreens pharmacist. He isn’t even technically a Walgreens employee. He works for a company called Pleio. And GoodStart is actually a Pleio program that’s contracted by Walgreens.

Here’s where the HIPAA side-step comes in.

You see, Walgreens doesn’t SELL your prescription information to Pleio. They GIVE it to Pleio. Then they pay Pleio to act as a Walgreens agent. That’s the loophole. Pleio is not a “third party,” they’re an “agent.”

Pretty sneaky.

That way, Walgreens can claim (as they do in Phylis’ letter) that “no information that can identify you will be provided to Pfizer.” But Pfizer (or any other drug company) couldn’t care less about your information. Why would they? Anything they might do with your information, Pleio is already taking care of.

The letter is signed “Your Walgreens pharmacist.” But if you keep reading beyond that, the Pleio and Pfizer connections are revealed. In fact, portions of the letter are copyright Pleio Health Support Systems, Inc. And portions are copyright Pfizer, Inc.

So this notion that it comes from “Your Walgreens pharmacist” is complete nonsense. Pfizer pays Walgreens. Walgreens pays Pleio. And, as usual, the only loser is the patient who is getting harassed and having their privacy violated at the same time.

If you want to see for yourself how we’ve all gotten caught in this marketing web, read the letter for yourself below.

This is a shameful abuse of patients’ most personal information. It’s all perfectly legal, but it’s rotten to the core.

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