Online sports physicals raise privacy concerns

Bailey Kirkeby, News Editor, Managing Editor, Opinion Editor

After supplementing traditional sports physicals done on paper with online physicals, concerns have arisen regarding the privacy of students’ personal health information.

Athletic Clearance, the website Bear Creek uses for online sports physicals, ensures that the information provided through the site is not provided to third parties.

“We do not sell, trade, or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable information unless we provide you with advance notice,” the Athletic Clearance privacy policy states. “This does not include website hosting partners and other parties who assist us in operating our website, conducting our business, or servicing you, so long as those parties agree to keep this information confidential.”

The latter statement, which allows business associates working with Athletic Clearance to view one’s personal information, has raised questions about how safe these online forms actually are — and has even resulted in one parent refusing to sign her child’s online physical.

“I don’t think that information needs to be online for anyone to access,” concerned parent Anntionnette Silva-Backus said. “There’s no guarantee that [the information] couldn’t be accessed by people other than a coach.”

Some student-athletes are not concerned with the security risks associated with sharing personal health information online and are willing to give up this information to play their sport.

“[It] doesn’t bother me,” football player Jacob Martínez, a sophomore, said. “If that’s what I need to do to play the sport and game I love, I’m gonna do it.”

Others appreciate the streamlined ease of using online physicals compared to paper physicals.

“I think it was a faster process than physically going through all the papers and just signing everything,” volleyball player Kendyl Amodo, a junior, said.

“It’s not really that serious,” football player Mekhi Striplin, a sophomore, said.

However, the Athletic Clearance privacy policy also states that they can provide non-personally identifiable information to other parties.

“[N]on-personally identifiable visitor information may be provided to other parties for marketing, advertising, or other uses,” the website states.

Knowing that their information could potentially be sold to other companies raised concerns for some student-athletes.

“I didn’t know they did that, and now that I know, that is pretty concerning,” cross-country athlete Emma Glanville, a sophomore, said. “Knowing that [other parties] can see your medical information and use your information against you is slightly concerning.”

“I think that selling any medical information for any purpose even if we stay anonymous is unacceptable,” tennis player Jazlyn Bo, a junior, said. “Our privacy is violated and we are put in either uncomfortable or dangerous situation.”

The Athletic Clearance privacy policy states that they have made efforts to ensure that their website is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Availability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), an act created to protect individual’s medical information.

“[Our parent company] has put into place numerous measures to certify it is compliant with the regulations and conditions set forth in… (HIPAA),” the Athletic Clearance privacy policy states.

Fortunately, a simplified version of the HIPAA rules and regulations, uploaded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, confirms that Athletic Clearance complies with HIPAA.

“A covered entity may permit a business associate to create, receive, maintain, or transmit electronic protected health information on the covered entity’s behalf only if the covered entity obtains satisfactory assurances… that the business associate will appropriately safeguard the information,” § 164.308(b)(1) of HIPAA states.

Nevertheless, although Athletic Clearance complies with HIPAA, student-athletes still have concerns about the safety of their information.

“Because it is not breaking the law, I feel as though this is more of a moral issue,” Bo said. “I would like to have control of my privacy and who has control of my privacy as well.”