If the Doctor Asks for Your Social Security Number

If you’re asked to provide your SSN—and simply leaving the space blank doesn’t get you a pass—politely push back. Your personal information is very important.

You can also express your concern, noting that you’re hesitant to share your Social Security number because you’re worried about identity theft. And ask why the healthcare facility requires the number, suggests Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a nonprofit group that helps fraud victims. “When I encountered this problem and asked why they needed it, the receptionist said ‘we don’t need it, we just haven’t changed the form,”’ she says. “So some of it is just an organizational failure.” In some cases, your healthcare provider may say they need your Social Security number simply because they have a field in their computerized medical records that must be filled in. The solution? Ask them to use zeros.

If you’re told it’s so they can track you down in case of billing problems, offer an alternative, such as your cell phone. But Dixon cautions about sharing other information, like your driver’s license. “You want to keep as many of the numbers that define you out of circulation,” she says.

Quiz the staff on their security practices and repeat your concerns to the doctor if you still don’t get satisfaction. “If your provider or their front desk staff insists on using your Social Security number, ask them why and how they will protect that information,” says Mendelsohn.

You can’t be sure your healthcare provider’s security practices are sufficiently robust. Research published this year in JAMA Internal Medicine, which looked at the causes of 1,138 breaches of protected health information, found that 53 percent were “attributable to the healthcare entities’ own mistakes or neglect,” according to the authors.

Finally, consider moving on, “If the answer you get is not satisfactory, you may ask yourself whether this is the right provider for you,” Mendelsohn says.

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