Hospital systems and telehealth providers have been warned about the privacy and security risks associated with the use of online tracking technologies integrated into their websites or mobile apps.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said these tracking technologies can collect identifiable data about users, including their health conditions, diagnoses, medications and medical treatments.

The agencies said this information could be disclosed to third parties without the user’s knowledge or consent, which could pose a serious privacy risk.

FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Samuel Levine said: “When consumers visit a hospital’s website or seek telehealth services, they should not have to worry that their most private and sensitive health information may be disclosed to advertisers and other unnamed, hidden third parties.

“The FTC is again serving notice that companies need to exercise extreme caution when using online tracking technologies and that we will continue doing everything in our powers to protect consumers’ health information from potential misuse and exploitation.”

The FTC and HHS are urging hospitals and telehealth providers to take steps to protect user privacy, such as only using tracking technologies that are necessary for the provision of services, as well as providing users with clear and concise information about how their data is being collected and used.

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Companies that fail to protect user privacy could face enforcement action from the FTC.

HHS Office for Civil Rights director Melanie Fontes Rainer said: “Although online tracking technologies can be used for beneficial purposes, patients and others should not have to sacrifice the privacy of their health information when using a hospital’s website.

“OCR continues to be concerned about impermissible disclosures of health information to third parties and will use all of its resources to address this issue.”