Northwestern Memorial Hospital sued over data sharing

Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Meta, Facebook and Instagram were named in a lawsuit filed Aug. 10 accusing the hospital of sharing sensitive patient health data with the social media companies.  

The federal lawsuit, filed in Illinois, alleges that Northwestern Memorial Hospital allowed Facebook's tracking tool, dubbed Meta Pixel, to unlawfully collect private medical information from the hospital's patient portal to use for its own profit.

The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages, class-action status and an order that Northwestern remove any code from its patient portals that may jeopardize patients' protected health information. 

Similar lawsuits have been filed against UCSF Medical Center and Dignity Health in which the plaintiff alleges that the tracking tool collects sensitive medical information without consent from patient portals.

The news site The Markup conducted an investigation into the tool and found that it was installed at 33 health systems. 

The tool allegedly sends Facebook patients' data when people schedule appointments in exchange for analytics about the ads that the health system places on Facebook and Instagram.

Meta has said the tool isn't meant to send sensitive health information to the company, and if information such as medical conditions, treatments or mental health status is sent by mistake, Meta Pixel will filter out that information and prevent the data from feeding into ads.

Under HIPAA, covered entities are prohibited from sharing identifiable patient health information with third parties like Facebook, unless consent is given.   

The Markup investigation said it had found no evidence that the health systems nor Facebook were obtaining patients' consent.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital told Becker's it does not comment on pending litigation.

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