Patricia Wagner Quoted in “Pharmacies Score Customer Data in Vaccine Effort. Some Are Crying Foul.”


Patricia M. Wagner, Chief Privacy Officer and Member of the Firm in the Health Care & Life Sciences and Litigation practices, in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, was quoted in POLITICO, in “Pharmacies Score Customer Data in Vaccine Effort. Some Are Crying Foul.” by Mohana Ravindranath and Susannah Luthi.

Following is an excerpt:

Millions of Americans streaming through retail pharmacies to receive Covid vaccines have no choice but to hand over their personal information to those companies, raising red flags for privacy watchdogs who are pressing for oversight of how the pharmacies may use the data bonanza to boost their profits.

Pharmacy chains … are playing an increasingly larger role in the nationwide inoculation effort, as vaccines become more widely available in the coming weeks. While providing vaccinations themselves aren’t a major moneymaker for the retailers, they have been able to scoop up data on new customers that could prove to be valuable.  …

The stores’ online appointment portals usually don’t make explicit how the companies will use the information customers are providing. Privacy watchdog groups and some members of Congress have expressed concern about whether the pharmacy chains will use that data for marketing, like selling ibuprofen or other products to deal with aftereffects of the shots. And they caution that less tech-savvy patients hunting for appointments may unwittingly join pharmacy loyalty programs that could bombard them with unexpected marketing emails and texts. …

The federal law regulating use of patient’s health information, HIPAA, prevents pharmacies from sharing customers’ health data for marketing purposes. But they can use the information to send coupons and promote health services they may already offer, like checkups or flu shots. There are fewer limitations on what they can do with the data once they scrub it of identifying details, like names and contact information, including potentially to make business decisions, legal experts said.

“I don’t want to dismiss people’s privacy concerns, but this just seems part and parcel of what pharmacies do on a daily basis,” such as reminders about flu shots and other services, said Trish Wagner, a privacy attorney with the firm Epstein Becker Green.

“As long as the outreach is in the confines of the [HIPAA] privacy rule, they may make that outreach,” she added.